May 30, 2007

RALEIGH – Raising the mandatory school attendance age could cost North Carolina nearly $9 million a year, with no positive impact on the state’s graduation or dropout rates. That’s the main finding in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Terry Stoops discussing this Spotlight report.

“North Carolina’s low graduation rate and high dropout rate have little to do with the mandatory – or compulsory – attendance age,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “Legislation aimed at increasing the compulsory attendance age to 17 or 18 would do little to solve North Carolina’s graduation and dropout crisis.”

The N.C. House voted May 24 to create a task force that would study raising the compulsory school attendance age. House Bill 1790 calls for a plan to boost the compulsory age to 18 and to increase the N.C. graduation rate to 100 percent. The Senate has not yet considered the bill.

North Carolina is one of 26 states that set 16 as the maximum age for compulsory school attendance, Stoops said. Other states set the maximum age at 17 or 18. “Data from the states show there is no apparent relationship between the maximum compulsory age and graduation rates,” he said. “In fact, four of the five states with the highest graduation rates match North Carolina in setting the maximum compulsory age at 16.”

There’s also no data to tie a higher compulsory age to lower dropout rates, Stoops said. “One of the two lowest dropout rates belongs to New Jersey, which has a compulsory attendance age of 16,” he said. “On the other hand, Louisiana has the highest dropout rate in the nation and a compulsory attendance age of 18.”

Research from Cornell University also raises questions about raising the compulsory school attendance age, Stoops said. “The research analyzed dropout and graduation rates before and after four states raised their compulsory attendance age,” he said. “None of the states increased its graduation rate. Two of the four states showed no improvement in dropout data attributable to the higher attendance age.”

The Ivy League research also noted that investments in teachers, facilities, and transportation would go to waste, Stoops said. “The chief researcher concluded ‘raising the compulsory school attendance age would not be a cost-effective mandate in terms of achieving its intended goals.’”

Raising North Carolina’s compulsory attendance age to 17 would cost $8.46 million a year in education services for an estimated 942 students, Stoops said. “Add in the estimated legal costs for additional truancy cases, and a compulsory attendance age of 17 would cost North Carolina taxpayers approximately $8.8 million a year.”

North Carolina should seek other ways to boost graduation rates and cut dropout rates, Stoops said. “Efforts to reach out to students at risk of dropping out must begin in the elementary and middle school grades,” he said. “School systems and law enforcement officials should also begin earnestly enforcing existing truancy laws. There is very little to be gained by raising the compulsory attendance age and forcing unruly or indifferent students to stay longer in schools that are not meeting their needs.”

Terry Stoops Spotlight report, “Raise the Bar, Not the Age: Why raising the compulsory school age won’t reduce dropouts,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].