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Keeping Kids in School is a Necessity

This part of the discussion is often overlooked, says Sen. Chuck Wiger.

We spend a lot of time discussing how we can better improve our schools. Can we make our teachers more effective? Can we provide better technology? Can we update a textbook? But in this discussion, one simple aspect is often overlooked – keeping students in the classroom. 

Minnesota students are allowed to drop out when they are 16. Recently I introduced legislation to increase the compulsory education age to 18.  The state’s 18-year-old compulsory attendance requirement was repealed in 1997 and 31 states have a higher compulsory age than Minnesota. Our current law, I believe, has an effect on our overall graduation rate, and specifically for minority student populations. In Minnesota, white students (84%) graduate at more than twice the rate of Hispanic (37%) and Native American (40%) students and nearly twice the rate of African American (47%) students. Asian students graduate at a 74% rate.  

Our current attendance laws are outdated and hinder anti-drop out efforts. We need to get serious about high school completion and remove systemic barriers that get in the way, such as antiquated policies and laws. When kids drop out, everyone loses. 

We all know a solid education is the key to success in life. We need students to stay in school, to take rigorous courses and to study in order to be prepared for higher education and the world of work. Keeping kids in school until the age of 18 is a way to jump start Minnesota’s economic engine and help close our achievement gap. 

Increasing the compulsory education age has benefits that extend beyond the classroom. More than 14,000 students did not graduate from high school in 2011, resulting in more than $2 billion in lost lifetime earnings. If half of those dropouts had stayed in school, the state would have seen $264 million in additional home sales and $8.8 million in additional auto sales. In addition, another 700 jobs would have been created, producing $112 million in GDP and $11 million in annual state taxes. 

Minnesota is known nationally and internationally for quality education programs and we strive to maintain that quality for all our young people. We need an educated workforce to build a strong state and national economy. That means we must have well-educated students who are prepared for the challenges after high school. Coupling an increase in the compulsory education age with our other education quality measures, we can put our students on the road to success.  

As always, I want to hear from you on this, or any other, issue. Please email me at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn, call me at 651-296-6820 or visit me at 205 Capitol, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. St. Paul, MN 55155.

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