The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

February 20, 2010

Manchin dubious on proposed dropout fix

Governor believes raising age to 17 should be combined with other programs

CHARLESTON — Raising the age when students can drop out of school from 16 to 17 is a superficial fix if it’s not combined with other programs and support for young people, Gov. Joe Manchin said Friday.

Bills in the state Senate and House of Delegates would raise the age as a way to reduce West Virginia’s 17 percent dropout rate, but they differ significantly otherwise. The Senate bill changes only the age and the number of unexcused absences students are permitted, while the House bill is a more comprehensive set of solutions.

The latter approach is more in keeping with Manchin’s thinking, since it tries to treat the problem in a systematic fashion.

“I can see both sides of the argument,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “But to have a student who’s lost all interest, lost all engagement in school — what went wrong? Maybe we need to fix that first.”

Manchin plans to make high school and college dropout rates the central focus of his tenure as chairman of the National Governors Association, which begins in July.

He’s cautiously watching the West Virginia legislation, saying he wants “a complete package” to address the reasons people drop out of school.

A divided Senate Education Committee advanced legislation last week that would raise the attendance age while cutting unexcused absences. But a House committee unanimously endorsed a bill Friday that attacks the dropout rate on several fronts.

“The results are very clear that if all you do is increase the age for compulsory school attendance, it has little or no effect,” House Education Chair Mary Poling said. “The results are also clear that when that is done at the same time that other measures are put in place, it’s very effective.”

A subcommittee that included Poling crafted the bipartisan bill over the last several weeks. It would offer alternative programs for disruptive students, and provide up to five special courts devoted to juvenile drug cases.

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