In many states, including Maryland, the school dropout age is 16. However, Sen. Catherine Pugh passed Senate Bill 239 to increase the age of compulsory school attendance to 18 by the 2011-2012 school year.
Last school year, 7,500 Baltimore City students dropped out of school, down from 12,000 students the previous school year. The bill proposes a gradual increase in the compulsory school attendance age, going to 17 for the upcoming school year and to 18 the following year.
“My reason for wanting to move it to 18 is because children are children when they are 16 and should not be given the right to such a life-changing decision,” Pugh said. “Many of them will regret it. Some of them will come back years later after spending years of not having an education.”
With the implementation of the bill, students would stay in school until they graduate or until they are 18. That way, Pugh anticipates another decrease of about 4,000 kids by the time the age increases to 17, and that same drop once it is 18.
“And then you’re down to about $1,500,” she said.
There are many repercussions to allowing students to dropout at 16, Pugh said. Many of the dropouts will become low-income citizens or go to jail like many of the juveniles who leave school before graduating. Each year, the state spends $86,000 to incarcerate children. Once the bill is approved, the state will save $110,000 on incarceration, unemployment and job training programs.
“I had a study done that looked at what needed to be done to move the compulsory age. I gradually took from the study some of the things that need to be done, like all kinds of programs that needed to be in place, and we’ve done that all throughout the state.”
Pugh said Gov Martin O’Malley wrote a letter in support of her bill and is working out ways to find extra money in the budget to accommodate more students in school. A $48.8 million fiscal note is attached to the suggested legislation in its first year, but the senator says the bill will have a long-term benefit in Baltimore City and across the state.
“The ultimate benefit for Baltimore City and the state of Maryland will be that you’ll have a more educated work force,” Pugh said. “You’ll have tax-paying citizens that can contribute to the welfare of the state.”