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Georgia Senate takes up mandatory school attendance age bill

The General Assembly is taking another look at legislation that would raise the mandatory school attendance age in Georgia from 16 to 17.

A state Senate study committee created to take up a bill introduced this year by Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, held its first hearing Thursday and heard endorsements of the measure from both the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and the Georgia School Boards Association. Grace Kim of the school boards group said only 16 states allow students to drop out of high school when they turn 16. The rest make them wait until they turn 17, 18 or even 19 to make that lifechanging decision, she said. “Students do not understand the consequences of going through life without the benefit of a high school education,” Kim said. Joe Fleming, the GAE’s chief lobbyist, said students who drop out of school are more likely to end up in prison or in need of taxpayer-funded support services than those who stay in school. “This is an investment that in the long term would save millions and millions of dollars in Georgia,” he said. Kerry Pritchard of the state Department of Education raised some concerns about the legislation. She said mandating that students stay in school an extra year would require hiring more teachers and counselors as well as other resources that might be better spent on support services for students of all ages.

But Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, said choosing between raising the mandatory school attendance age and providing “wraparound” support services to students shouldn’t be an either-or proposition.

“Students need to stay in school as long as they can and learn as much as they can,” she said. “They’re better off staying in school.”

Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, the study committee’s chairman, said the panel will hold at least one more meeting, preferably in one of the committee members’ Senate districts, before recommending whether the bill should move forward.

“It’s very important that we get this right,” said Payne, who spent 30 years as a juvenile probation officer. “There’s no kid who, to me, is disposable.”

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