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Bill raising dropout age from 16 to 18 will be back before lawmakers

Delaware Public Media

Delaware is one of only 14 states that allow students to drop out of school without parental permission starting at age 16.

But some lawmakers and advocates are trying to change that.

A bill will be re-introduced this legislative session to move the legal dropout rate for First State students from 16 to 18 years old.


State Representative Debra Heffernan is committed to bringing back a bill she introduced in 2015 to make it happen.


“We are spending a lot of money at the state on early childhood education but then we are not following through with helping kids graduate and stay in school," Heffernan said.


Heffernan says the bill stalled over concerns about cost. But she adds there is some urgency to address the issue.


While the state has seen decreases in its dropout rate overall, Heffernan that hasn’t been true for students of color and other minorities.


“One really is too many but the last I counted it was 60 percent, said Delaware NAACP President Linwood Jackson.


Jackson says in addition to raising the dropout age, additional supports need to be in place to help kids dealing with issues like homelessness and post traumatic stress disorder while in school.


“I think it goes a long way when a child is born, that he knows that we as adults are going to work with them and get them through whatever their problems are in school because there are a lot of issues in our communities.”

Heffernan adds society has come a long way since the 1950s when the dropout age was raised from 14 to 15.

“Since then, we’ve realized that without a high school diploma you can’t really achieve anything," she said. "You’re not going to be able to make as much money as somebody who has a high school diploma, you’re not going to be able to have as good a future ahead of you.”


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 25 states require students to stay in school until they’re 18.

The General Assembly returns to work next month.

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