Our view: Raise the high school dropout age

For many, high school is the first phase of life in which they can really screw things up for themselves. While middle-schoolers are perfectly capable of making awful choices with disastrous long-term consequences, only in high school do the opportunities for bad mistakes really begin to array themselves. Unplanned pregnancies, car crashes, drug abuse, being charged criminally as an adult, are all things that will follow a person well past their graduation day.

Assuming they graduate at all.

Dropping out of school is one of the worst things a child can do to themselves. In Vermont, they only need to be 16 years old to be allowed to do it. Why is the age so low? Like many bizarre laws, we suspect it has its roots in agriculture. Summer vacations were originally to allow for kids to stay home and work on the farm. When those kids turned 16, they had the option to forgo their educations and turn to whatever the workforce had to offer.

Maybe once upon a time that was a solid option, but not today.

High school dropouts in the modern era can look forward to a life of low-paying jobs with little to nothing in the way of benefits. When they get tired of it they can go for a GED and start playing catch-up with the rest of their cohort. They'll then learn that educations don't come cheap, nor does the world-at-large care all that much the wants and needs of young adults.

Well, that's just too bad, some might say. They were old enough to make their bad choice, let `em live with it.

We'd argue that 16 is far too young an age for people to be making the decision to drop out of school. If they're not old enough to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or drive a car free of special restrictions then they're probably not old enough to sink their future career prospects.

Children drop out of school for myriad reasons. Bullying, mental illness, learning disabilities, unstable homes, the list is long. Many simply don't learn the same way other children do and find the entire experience torturous rather than educational.

Fortunately, there are programs that address some of this. Those entering Mount Anthony Union High School for the past 20 years have had the Bridges Transitional Program, which focuses on middle schoolers entering high school, and the Quantum Leap Exhibit Program for those already in. Richard and Danielle Crosier have done countless students no small amount of good by keeping them in school long enough to earn that diploma. We applaud their efforts and hope the programs they run get all the support they need.

Given all that, we call upon our Legislature to act upon a study done in 2012 by the University of Vermont — Done at the Senate's behest — that concluded, "Many states across the nation have taken initiatives to increase the compulsory dropout age to 18 years old. Research has shown that in order to have the intended effect, supplementary programs are necessary in order to support the setting of a higher dropout age. While the upfront costs of these programs can be off- putting, research indicates that in the long run there is an overall benefit for society, the economy, and the students themselves."


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