State Rep. Seeks to Change Minn. Dropout Age

Updated: 02/01/2013 7:17 AM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier

One out of every ten students in the Minneapolis Public School District drops out. Now, a local lawmaker wants to force all Minnesotans to stay in school through age 18. Currently, students are only required to stay in school through age 16.

"It's really the next generation of needed talent for our state," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.

Mariani said much of that talent is going to waste.

In 2011, the statewide dropout rate was 4.8 percent. But in the Minneapolis Public School District, it was 11.3 percent. The dropout rate at St. Paul Public Schools is 5.9 percent.

Mariani said part of the problem is that kids who drop out don't legally have to be in class.

"It's frankly an inconsistent message to then tell young people, 'Hey, by the time you're 16, it doesn't matter if you're ready for any of those outcomes. It's OK for you to leave,'" Mariani said.

He wants to change that.

Mariani has introduced a bill that would raise the state's compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18.

"I think we are falling behind," Mariani said.

19 states are still at age 16, including Minnesota. The majority, 31 states, require school attendance through age 17 or 18.

But would joining that majority really solve the problem?

"I think that what we want to be careful of is to not think that any one thing is going to fix a problem," said Ann DeGroot, executive director of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board.

The MYCB helps support kids who are struggling academically. DeGroot said Mariani's bill could help, but needs to be part of a broader effort at teens on a case by case basis.

"I think it's sort of figuring out which resources are needed for which kid," DeGroot said.

Mariani agreed, but said his bill would bolster those efforts.

"Educators get it. The president gets it, he's called for this as well. People in the private sector get it. So it's time for the legislature to get it," Mariani said.

There are downsides to this. Changing the age to 18 would cost more because more students would be in class. One recent study from the Brookings Institute even found it could reduce graduation rates because it takes time and attention from the students who want to be in class.

The Minneapolis Public School district does support Mariani's bill, but officials said they've been aggressively tackling the dropout rate problem for years. The district has a program dedicated to identifying freshmen who are most at risk of dropping out. Those students then get more time and attention in an effort to get them their diplomas.

Find information on graduation/dropout rates and much more at the Minnesota Department of Education's Data Center.