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Legislation to increase the high school dropout age to 18 moves forward in Illinois

Legislation to increase the high school dropout age to 18 moves forward in Illinois

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill • President Obama’s call to raise the minimum high school dropout age to 18 is being heard in Illinois.

Legislation proposing to increase the dropout age from 17 years old to 18 is moving forward in the Illinois Senate. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, passed through committee this afternoon and is on its way to the Senate floor for debate.

Gov. Pat Quinn voiced his support for increasing the dropout age to 18 years old earlier this year.

"The best way to ensure that our children have the chance to achieve and succeed is to make sure they stay in school long enough to earn their diploma," Quinn said in a written statement.

Quinn’s senior adviser Jerry Stermer testified in committee to echo the governor's support for Lightford’s legislation.

“I think this is a public narrative of believing in our children. I think that when we believe in our kids we change what’s going on in the community,” Stermer said.

The legislation saw opposition from state Sen. David Luectefeld, R-Okawville, who questioned at what age to “draw the line.”

“I was wondering where that magical age is. First 16, then it became 17, now it’s 18 and if that’s so good, how about 19?”

Other opposition to the bill centered on whether raising the dropout age was the best approach to combating the growing high school dropout rate.

Bill Leavy, executive director of West Town Academy in Chicago, testified before the committee saying the legislation was “papering over the problem rather than solving it.”

“By raising the attendance age to 18 we are trying to legally compel at-risk youth to show up at schools where they likely have experienced multiple years of failure and have little prospect of graduating,” Leavy said. “We should provide them alternative education with resources and opportunities that can offer them a real chance to succeed.”

Some opponents of the legislation think the bill could potentially create more problems down the road.

Rev. Bob Vanden Bosch of Concerned Christian Americans told the committee that raising the minimum high school dropout age could fuel another problem facing the state’s schools; truancy.

“The state of Illinois does not enforce truancy laws to begin with- if we’re not enforcing the existing law at the age of 17, what good does it do to raise the mandatory attendance age to the age of 18?” Vanden Busch asked. “We’re going to increase the number of truants.”

Lightford said she has been in discussion with the governor’s office about how to provide additional resources to school districts and raise the dropout age at the same time, while also addressing the problem of truancy.

The legislation passed through committee 6 to 4 and will make its way to the Senate floor for debate.

The bill is SB3259.

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