Georgia law currently allows students who are at least 16-years-old and have their parent’s written permission to leave (drop out of) school before completing all of the requirements for a high school diploma.

Without parental permission, students may not drop out until they turn 18 or become legally emancipated. However, a proposed bill may change these laws in 2022, making school mandatory for students 17 years of age and younger.

The legislation, SB3, is sponsored by Senator Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) and says attendance in a public school, private school, or home school program is mandatory and required for children between their sixth and seventeenth birthdays.

“I have supported similar bills for years and for some reason the school district and the legislature would not pass it. I wanted it to go all the way to 18 and some of my colleagues did too, but they say it cost too much money,” said Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta). “That doesn’t make sense. Twice as many young black males are incarcerated than in college so which end do you want it on? Even if it costs, it’s worth it. Our young people are worth it.”

Though public schools are free to attend, there is still a cost. Studies show that on average, parents can expect to spend between $8,787.37 to $33,551.90 on their child’s education, depending on grade level.

A parent who uses college counsellors or sends their child to private school can expect to pay higher costs.

During the pandemic, Georgia public schools received more than $400 million in federal emergency aid. The money went directly to the state’s 180 school districts, state-run schools, and 30 charter schools.

According to the Department of Education, 83.8 percent of high school seniors graduated on time in the spring of 2020 in Georgia— the highest percentage of students in a single class to graduate since Georgia began calculating this particular statistic.

Many high school students didn’t take end-of-course exams in 2020 due to pandemic. The exams would have counted for 20 percent of their overall grade.

“We felt that our young people need more time to learn and mature before they get out into the world,” James said. “Their parents are responsible for them until they are 16 and we need them to be responsible until they’re 18 and out of there.”

The change in age requirement brings concern to Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas) who says he wants to provide more assistance to students who are most likely to drop out.

“A lot of them have stuff going on in their life so if we’re going to make the change how do we truly make this impactful so that we’re truly setting students up for success,” Anavitarte said.

Anavitarte suggests connecting students with wraparound services. Wrap services in schools are designed to give a child the academic, social, or behavioral support he or she needs throughout the school day.

In this case, the services will allow children who have reached age 16 to be eligible for a waiver of the age of mandatory attendance if they agree to enroll in and complete a program of technical education, technical training, or workforce development.

“Hopefully these services will set students up to get a job or start a business. Maybe some of the students we help will be able to go to trade school, technical college, or do something else,” Anavitarte said.

Jackson did not respond to the interview request. SB3 will be considered during the 2022 legislative session.

This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.

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