Delaware Public Media

School dropout age could rise to 18 under new bill

Jan 30, 2017

State lawmakers are trying to curb Delaware’s dropout rate even further by making it illegal for minors to quit school.

The proposal from Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-Bellefonte) would raise the legal dropout age to 18 by September of 2019.

Those who are 16 or 17 would still be able to leave school – but he or she need to have an approved plan in place.

“It gives kids at the age of 16 a chance to develop an alternate education plan with their parents, with the principal,” Heffernan said.

Those options could be attending an alternative high school, taking online classes, enrolling in apprenticeships or other opportunities.

Ultimately, though, the student would have to get either a high school diploma or a GED under a plan signed off on by his or her district superintendent.

"...it’s helping them to graduate, gain a different secondary credential and so they will have a chance at a bright future,” Heffernan said.

Delaware's dropout rate stood at 2.2 percent – or 868 students – for the 2014-2015 school year, which is the most recent data available.

That’s up a tenth of a point from the previous school year, but it's still much lower than the national dropout rate of 6.5 percent in 2014.

Two other measures from Rep. Sean Matthews (D-Talleyville) under consideration in the House also are attempting to address the First State's dropout rate.

The first would require written consent from a parent or guardian and an exit interview with school administrators and the student choosing to leave school.

Matthews's second bill would trigger an intervention meeting between parents or guardians and school officials after a child misses five days without an approved excuse. Right now, that only happens after 10 unexcused absences.

Heffernan introduced a similar bill to her current proposal in 2012, but it never got out of a House committee.

This version will be debated when lawmakers return to Dover in March.