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Big Test Today For School Dropout Bill

April 14, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Legislation to lower Minnesota's high school dropout rate faces a key test today, and the sponsor says he has found a way to address the concerns that had been raised about it. Sen. Chuck Wiger wants to require all students to stay in school until they're 18. He says those who leave without graduating –- and there were 5,000 in Minnesota last year –- can face some tough times down the road.

"If you leave the system without a high school diploma, your chances of failing in life are substantially increased. It's very expensive for the person that drops out, as well as to society in general."

An important part of the proposal, he adds, is to address the causes of students leaving school. So, the bill includes a number of early intervention measures.

"If you're struggling with reading or with math or other thing, we need to provide the remedial programs. If you have a learning disability, we need to catch those as early as we can. We need to get parents actively involved. There are many facets to addressing high school dropouts -- but we can't make it easy to drop out at age 16."

Wiger will amend his plan to phase in the new standards over a four-year period. He explains this would allow schools to prepare for an increase in the numbers of students, which has implications for school budgets.

Minnesota's current minimum dropout age is 16, with parents' permission. Although the rule may have made sense years ago for some students' economic reasons, Wiger believes it is outdated. Today, he says, we need well-educated students who are prepared for the challenges of life.

The bill goes before the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon. Similar legislation in the House is sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani.

Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN