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Minnesota Legislature

Staying in school through age 18

Published (2/20/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) wants Minnesota to serve students and the state better by requiring school attendance until age 18.

Mariani, chairman of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee, sponsors HF314, which would raise the upper compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 or until students meet all graduation requirements, starting in the 2012-13 school year.

“Our state and our schools should really match our rhetoric and our legislation — our trend in legislation toward higher and higher standards — with an unambiguous expectation of our young to stay in school. I believe we can no longer have such a low bar for dropping out of high school,” said Mariani, who noted that high school graduates earn more, are likelier to avoid jail and stay healthier than dropouts.

The bill “sends a strong message that we are serious about school in Minnesota, and that a high school diploma means something,” said Minneapolis Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. She urged lawmakers to “set clear and high expectations and say no to failure.”

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Pam Nolan, who enforces the compulsory attendance law, said letting kids leave school at age 16 “does, in fact, send the wrong message.”

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) asked administrators if they know whether students usually have their parents’ blessing to drop out. “If support isn’t there from parents I wonder if we can really make an impact with changing the law.”

Johnson said phone calls to families whose children have left school indicate a variety of reasons, including the need to work and lack of engagement. But, sometimes, she said, teenagers prone to “risky behavior” are difficult for parents, as well as schools, to handle.

The bill was approved by the committee Feb. 18 and sent to the House Finance Committee with a recommendation to re-refer it to the House K-12 Education Finance Division. Its companion, SF19, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

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