Until recently, the label of "at-risk kid" held no specific definition in my mind. While doing some research on the U.S. Census Bureau website for another project, I came across a report titled "At-Risk Conditions of U.S. School-Age Children" where it defines at-risk being "higher likelihoods of undesirable life outcomes" such as pre-marital births, dropping out of high school, drug use and criminal activity. As it turns out, I would find that definition helpful in understanding a particular piece of legislation in the 2009 session of the Idaho Legislature.
Today, the Idaho House Education Committee voted to send a piece of legislation to be printed that would change the legal drop-out age for Idaho high school students from sixteen to eighteen. Currently, Idaho law allows a sixteen year-old high school student to drop out of high school with parental consent. Additionally, Idaho law allows for a school to drop a student (also sixteen years of age or older) who misses ten consecutive days of school.
The legislation was proposed by a freshman House member, Rep. Jarvis of Meridian, who initially said the legislation would not cost the state any additional money to implement or operate his proposed policy. However, as is being pointed out in various news stories, the cost would in fact be approximately $11 million.
It would appear that two arguments are being made against the legislation. The first is that the state cannot invest in much else during this economically tumultuous time and the second being that the state already holds too much say in the private lives of Idahoans, interfering further into those lives by saying when their children can drop out of school is simply too far.
On the other side of the debate, should this legislation actually be heard by the committee and voted on, are two camps. The first camp believes that drop-out rates are directly tied to crime rates. The second camp may also believe there is a correlation to be drawn between crime rates and drop-out rates, but there main argument is that school districts are losing money because of drop-outs and this legislation would be a benefit to those school districts, therefore placing less stress on the schools themselves. My own state senator, Senator Sagness, appears to be in both camps as well as in the camp that justifies such an expense because the economy cannot afford "to lose more educated youth."
With this particular legislation, there is bound to be the argument (I can see Rep. Thayn, Bryan Fischer, Clayton Cramer, et al. gearing up now) that the state has no business telling parents when to send their children to school or how long to keep them there. There will also come an argument from some that not all kids are cut out for school and that a few of the drop-outs turn out to be trailblazing, successful individuals like J.R. Simplot.
However, I'd like to go on the record as being for this legislation for a myriad of reasons, the number one being, there are too many kids who are bored, discouraged or otherwise displeased with public education and have parents who are not involved with their kids or simply don't care enough about their kid's future to dissuade them from dropping out. Too many parents are ready and willing to consent to their sixteen year old dropping out if it means the kid will get a job, bringing additional income to the home. There are also parents who have fought long and hard with their teenagers over school attendance or a number of other things and they offer their consent for a sixteen year olds drop-out as a symbolic white flag of surrender.
I am afraid as this legislation goes forward, those in the legislature and the media will portray this bill as one of statistics (i.e. X number of students drop-out, Y number of citizens are arrested and thrown in jail, all of which equals too much money for the state to pay for prisons). I hope we all can remember as we write about this that these are human beings, impressionable young men and women who deserve whatever leg-up we can offer them in this all too crazy world.