Dropping out of school might get more difficult

A bill to lift the age for compulsory education in Maryland to a student's 18th birthday got a nod from the House of Delegates today, but still needs final approval from the Senate.

The legislation would raise the age for compulsory education from 16 to 17 by the 2015-2016 school year. And, by the start of school in 2017, students in Marylanders would have to stay in the classroom until their 18th birthday.

"We have to have a policy in this state saying children are children and can't make adult decisions that will affect their livelihood," said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, the Prince George's County lawmaker who sponsored the House version of the bill (HB 373).

Baltimore Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant said he supported the measure because he doesn't believe "kids" can't make such "informed decisions" about how quitting school will affect their futures. "Schools have to act as the children's parents, and force them to do the right thing," Tarrant said.

Baltimore Sen. Catherine Pugh is pushing the Senate version of the bill. She's been working on the issue for years -- and came over the the House chamber Thursday to see the debate. She expects it to move quickly in her chamber.

The legislation also calls for a slew of assessments and reports on county school systems' readiness to implement the change. Some schools anticipate that they'll have to create more space in alternative classrooms for older students who'd prefer not to be in the education system.

Roughly 9,500 children dropout of school each year in Maryland, according to a non-partisan analysis.  Baltimore has the state's fourth highest dropout rate, with 4.19 percent of students leaving school when they turn 16.

The bill does not affect children who are home schooled, pregnant or in the military.

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