books and pencils on a wooden table in front of a green chalkboard with white writing in chalk

The Senate Study Committee on the Age of Mandatory Education is recommending that Georgia raise the minimum age a child can drop out of school from 16 to 17 while improving wraparound services to encourage kids to graduate. 

“We’ve all come to a conclusion that something needs to be done at an earlier age to influence these young lives and not give up on them so fast,” said the committee chair, Sen. Chuck Payne, a Republican from Dalton, at the committee’s meeting at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

The committee has issued a final report on how to tackle Georgia’s dropout rate, which lawmakers hope will decrease Georgia’s prison population based on Department of Corrections data showing the majority of inmates come in without a high school diploma.

Increasing Georgia’s dropout age is not a new concept. Some advocates have been pushing it since 2011, when it was first proposed by Sen. Lester Jackson, a Democrat from Savannah.  

His latest effort, SB3, introduced early in 2021, was assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee, which Payne chairs. Payne, in turn, proposed the study committee to research the issue.  

The fiscal note for SB3 estimated it would cost the state Department of Education $12.7 million to implement. Jackson compared the cost per inmate at $20,000 a year to the cost per student, which is less than $5,000.

“To let them just walk out the door at 16, where they can’t find a job paying a livable wage, we are not only doing a harm to that student but we’re also doing a harm to this great state,” said Jackson.

After four meetings throughout the year and across Georgia, the committee concluded that the solution cannot be one size fits all. 

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Republican from Marietta, said that just keeping a student in a building will not make them more interested in learning. He also said that interventions with students should happen way earlier than high school. Tippins advised that academic achievement should be the focus rather than attendance.

“Not every kid is dropping out for the same reason and if you are going to be effective, you are going to have to do it on a one-on-one basis,” said Tippins.

The committee stated in their report that they want to use Georgia Milestones data strategically to track students who are struggling academically. According to the committee report, any plans for intervention should start in third grade and be based on student scores. 

“We do something more on the front end or we are going to have to pay a lot in the back end, and that’s indisputable,” said Payne. 

When it comes to wraparound services, the final report recommended that the approach should be tiered and the higher level of need should receive the higher level of service. The report said parents should be involved in this process, especially those whose children have a higher level of need. The report also said that raising the compulsory age and increasing support staff should go hand and hand.

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