The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 18, 2013

State dropout legislation receiving mixed reactions

PRINCETON — Educators and lawmakers are expressing mixed reactions to a bill before the House of Delegates that seeks to raise the age at which West Virginia students may dropout of school.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill aiming to increase the dropout age. Language in the bill states legislators feel changing the dropout age from 16 to 17 “gives the student more time to make an educated decision about discontinuing education and may make them less likely to become dependent on the state and less likely to be dependent on alcohol or drugs.”

In addition to raising the dropout age, the bill would also require school systems to have some sort of credit recovery program to help students who had failed to achieve one or more credits necessary for graduation.

Mercer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers said increasing the dropout age could encourage some students to remain in school. However, Akers said there are more factors than age contributing to the dropout rate.

“I think it is very important that students stay in school and obtain their high school diploma,” Akers said. “Any type of legislation that is going to further our ability to keep students here is helpful. I think students having to stay in school a little bit longer sometimes helps them get over the initial reaction that leads them to drop out. We also have a problem if the student doesn’t have support from home or if parents think it is OK for them to drop out, then when they stay with us just because of age it becomes a motivation program and sometimes even a disciplinary problem.”

Akers said the Mercer County school system currently has a credit recovery program, but said budget problems could arise if credit recovery were made mandatory without an increase in funds to the program.

“The portion of the bill that deals with the program for credit recovery or taking additional courses does concern me,” Akers said. “We do have a credit recovery program in Mercer County. Most counties do have some sort of credit recovery program, but I have a little bit of concerns about making it a mandatory program, especially if it becomes an unfunded mandate. If we had to offer the program to more students than we are currently offering it to or if the funds we use to provide credit recovery currently are taken away, that would be an issue. I agree with the idea with trying to make programs available to students to help them recover credits, but there is no funding mechanism in here for that. Funding is always a major concern.”

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said he thinks the state should take some steps to curb dropout rates.

“I think again conceptually it is probably a good idea, though I haven’t considered it personally,” he said. “We do have a dropout problem in the state of West Virginia. We have about a 22 percent dropout rate. If that would help increase our percentage of graduates, it is a great idea. We are talking about minors, so I think this is something legitimately within our control. We need to keep our kids in school and help them get their diplomas. We will be improving their future whether they want us to or not. It does seem to make sense: If you are in school longer, you have a great potential to graduate. I think it will be getting some attention in the education committee.”

— Kate Coil is a writer for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

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