Committee’s decision puzzling

2011-01-19T00:00:00Z Committee’s decision puzzlingIndependent Record Helena Independent Record
January 19, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Almost every plank of the stereotypical legislator’s economic platform — good, high-paying jobs; opportunities for young adults to find meaningful work without leaving the state; value-added production in industries that goes beyond simple resource extractions and leads to higher prices for Montana goods — can be more easily attained if high school graduation rates improve.

Which is why it’s so puzzling that a Senate committee Monday didn’t advance a proposal to raise the state’s dropout age to 18 from its current 16. The 5-5 deadlock in Senate Education and Cultural Resources wasn’t quite a straight party line vote, as Republican Taylor Brown, the bill’s sponsor, joined the panel’s four Democrats in supporting the measure, while the other five GOP members were opposed. Senators Rick Ripley, Wolf Creek, Jeff Essman, Billings, Bob Lake, Hamilton, Eric Moore, Miles City and committee chair Ryan Zinke, Whitefish, voted against raising the age limit for dropping out.

Sitting on a 5-5 tie, the bill is technically still alive in the committee, according to Senate rules, which require the committee take a positive action on it at some point this session. Either a “no” vote will become a “yes,” or a “yes” vote will become a vote to table. We urge the committee to keep this bill alive and give it the full Senate floor discussion it deserves.

Leaving the dropout age in place at age 16 sends a message to Montana’s teens that quitting school is an acceptable option. Almost nobody — not even the brightest, most advanced students — fulfill all the requirements needed to graduate from high school by that age. So by telling students they can quit at 16, we’re effectively telling them it’s OK not to finish school. And that’s not right.

Raising the age to 18, the age when most kids graduate, would tell students that there’s an expectation that they complete high school. In today’s globally competitive world, that’s not an unreasonable expectation. Indeed, a high school diploma is almost mandatory for anyone hoping to find meaningful work and earn a salary good enough to support a family.

Opponents claim that raising the dropout rate won’t solve the problem, and that doing so would force teens to stay in school when they don’t want to be there, to the detriment of those who do. We know plenty of 14-year-olds who don’t like school either — should they be allowed to quit? Other privileges, including voting and serving in the military, to say nothing of having a beer, aren’t afforded to Montanans until they’re 18 or older. Why should a decision as important as leaving school be left to someone who hasn’t reached even that level of maturity?

Sorry, but a big part of life is doing things you don’t want to do, and going to school can certainly fall into that category. That’s no excuse not to go. And raising the compulsory age to 18 would encourage the state’s school districts to find innovative and creative ways to reach these kids, to help them find the value in education and lay a better foundation for a more prosperous life down the road.

State Superintendent Denise Juneau’s staff said that if she’s re-elected, she’ll bring the proposal back to the Legislature in 2013. Sometimes it takes a session or two for political will and/or public sentiment to marshal enough support for proposals of this sort, and we hope this is one of those cases and the proposal will get through the process — either now, or in two years.

There will always be dropouts, and some for legitimate family or personal reasons. But it’s a terrible handicap with which to enter adulthood, and the Legislature should recognize the importance of a diploma and do its part to ensure more Montanans earn one.

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(5) Comments

  1. Limber
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    Limber - January 21, 2011 5:37 am
    It is another case 'Just say no.' Dropout is a big problem; no one seriously disputes that. I personhally have a huge economic interest at stake here. I'm the one who foots the bill for the courts, corrections, welfare, unemployment, etc. etc. I would so much rather pay the extra for education up front and save these costs down the road. Saying, 'no' without proposing alternative solutions is incredibly irresponsible. Worse than that, it is lazy.
  2. 4trees
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    4trees - January 19, 2011 6:09 pm
    Most states require school to 18, or completion of HS or equivalent. It is a shame that MT doesn't, a practice left over from the agrarian putt'em to work on the farm days. To get almost any job requires a HS diploma or equiv. I consider the current vote to just be the Committee betting FOR the failure of 244 kids a year to potentially save the state $1,000,000 per year (see their fiscal note). Obviously, the fiscal analysis does not consider the long range finacials of government support via welfare or the criminal justice system for young folks without a good education and ability to support themselves. It is a disgrace.
  3. GivePeaceAChance
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    GivePeaceAChance - January 19, 2011 8:55 am
    If the writer of this editorial is "puzzled" as to why people do not want the state using criminal laws to compel them to compel their 17 years old children to go to a state run school, then perhaps the writer would be happier in North Korea or Cuba. In those places personal liberty is not allowed so no conflicts between the liberty and state compulsion.

    Would you be "puzzled" if Senators voted down a proposal to compel newspapers to submit their material for state review prior to publsihing their written words?
  4. Honestly
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    Honestly - January 19, 2011 6:53 am
    Puzzling? this is the republican party in action. How are you puzzled? On Juneau, I think there is a real question on whether or not she'll be re-elected. Haven't really seen anything from her on the political front.
  5. patriot
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    patriot - January 19, 2011 6:31 am
    Not long ago Messinger supposedly formed a panel to look into the dropout rate problem. I have often wondered why kids drop out prior to graduating. Although I am not opposed to raising the age to 18, why is it really necessary, and I can't think of any legitimate reason to drop out prior to graduating. How far should the school go in trying to keep some kids in school? Creating new laws may or may not be the answer. What will be the punishment be if a kid decides not to go. Will the parent or parents be punished. Breaking any law should have consequences. Not only is the legislation puzzling but also your editorial content. The only suggestion from the editorial is that some republicans have an issue with creating a new law. Growing the "nanny entitlement state" is not the answer. Parents must be held accountable for the actions of their offspring for contributing another uneducated person to our population.

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