Educators have tried many ways to keep students from dropping out of school, and some state legislators have said the law can help.
Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said he has drafted a bill to increase the age at which students can drop out from 16 to 18. Coe, longtime chair of the Senate Education Committee, said students would still be allowed to drop out before 18 years of age but would not be allowed to hold a Wyoming driver’s license.
Wyoming would join 20 states and the District of Columbia that set the maximum age for compulsory attendance at 18, according to the Education Commission of the States. The majority of US states tie driving privileges to student attendance, behavior or achievement.
Coe said the bill stemmed from discussions held in the Select Committee on Statewide Education Accountability about how to increase the state graduation rate and ensure students leave school ready for further education or a job.
About 1,000 Wyoming students dropped out of school in 2008-09, the latest year of data available from the Wyoming Department of Education. Natrona County and other larger districts lost larger percentages of students than the state average.
Graduation rates increased in two of six states that raised the compulsory school age between 2002 and 2008, according to a 2010 report by Civic Enterprises, America’s Promise Alliance and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.
The Wyoming School Boards Association unsuccessfully presented similar bills in the past. Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, said he didn’t support those bills because there was no evidence the policy change would make a difference.
Teeters, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he will co-sponsor the new bill because it includes consequences.
“[A driver’s license] is something everyone can associate with, and I think it’s something that can motivate them in school,” Teeters said. “If you don’t have some sort of consequence, raising the age to 18 doesn’t work.”
The two lawmakers are still working the bill, and Teeters said they plan to include explicit language exempting home-schooled students from the higher age. Currently, students who drop out of high school and enroll in a GED program are counted as dropouts. Coe said they have not discussed exempting GED students from the consequences of dropping out.