Delaware lawmakers unveiled a bill Thursday that would require students to attend school through age 18.
At present, the state only requires children go to school from ages 5 to 16. The bill, if it passes as written, would increase the mandatory attendance age to 17 in 2016-17, and then up to 18 the following year.
Representative Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South, the bill’s lead sponsor, believes the measure would help improve the state’s graduation rates.
“On one hand, schools are trying hard to increase the graduation rate,” Heffernan said in a press release. “On the other, we are saying it is OK to drop out of school at 16. We need a consistent message and consistent policies.”
Heffernan plans to introduce the bill when the legislature reconvenes in January. She sponsored a similar measure in 2012, but the bill was tabled by the state house’s education committee. The 2012 version of the bill came with a fiscal note estimating that a change in the mandatory attendance age could cost the state between $879,000 and $2.2 million.
Heffernan said she anticipates the estimate will be lower this time around due to better data collection. She also noted in an interview Thursday that she believes the measure will save the state money long-term.
“This keeps kids from being unemployed and underemployed and relying on state services,” said Heffernan, a former president of the Brandywine School District Board of Education.
Twenty five states require students to stay in school until they’re 18 according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Just 14 states, including Delaware, allow students to drop out after age 16.
Delaware raised its mandatory schooling age from 14 to 16 in 1953.