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Legislation would raise dropout age to 18

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Legislation would raise dropout age to 18
By Ben Fields, Huntington Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON — West Virginia high school dropout rates are getting lower, but the state still exceeds the national average, prompting legislation to raise the compulsory attendance age for the second time in the past four years.

In 2011, the age before a student could drop out was raised from 16 to 17.

House Bill 2123 would raise the compulsory attendance age to 18. Del. Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, is lead sponsor of the bill, which is co-sponsored by Delegates Don Perdue, D-Wayne, and Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, among others. Recent statistics from the West Virginia Department of Education put graduation rates in Mountain State high schools at about 74 percent, slightly below the national average of 77 percent.

However, graduation rates in West Virginia have only improved by about 4.5 percent over the past 10 years, while some states have seen improvements of 20 to 30 percent.

"We're in a situation where education is at such a premium in West Virginia that we need to invoke anything we can to have kids sustain contact with the education system," Perdue said Wednesday. "

Some might say this is a tough response. I would not. I think it's an accurate response to the problem." Perdue said he's not sure how the House will respond to the bill, with so much emphasis early on dedicated to energy policy, tort reform and the state's business climate. "I think it will be heard," he said.

"It remains to be seen if the Senate would pick it up if it gets out of the House, but I think it will be heard." Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, said she believes there will be a lot of focus on improving education overall in the 2015 session. "I'm sure (the dropout age) will be discussed, I'm just not sure how high up on the list it is," she said.

"Obviously, we want to improve dropout rates for West Virginia students. To be successful you have to have an education, and to have an education you have to be in school." In Cabell County, the compulsory attendance age was raised to 18 in 2011 as part of an Innovation Zone grant. After raising the age, the number of dropouts decreased from 222 in 2010 to 95 in 2011.

Among other things, each class of dropouts costs West Virginians more than $55 million in lifetime health care costs, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.