Sponsored by Rep. Deborah Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred South), House Bill 244 would raise the minimum dropout age in Delaware from 16 to 18, unless the student graduates high school or holds a job at age 16.


In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama called on all states to make changes in their laws to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

Ironically, a bill calling for that exact step was introduced in the State House of Representatives last week.

Sponsored by Rep. Deborah Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred South), House Bill 244 would raise the minimum dropout age in Delaware from 16 to 18, unless the student graduates high school or holds a job at age 16.

The adjustment would come in a two-year phase-in with the compulsory education increasing to 17 for the 2012-2013 school year and to 18 the following year.

“On one hand, schools are trying hard to increase the graduation rate,” said Heffernan, a former Brandywine School Board president. “On the other, we are saying it is OK to drop out of school at 16. We need a consistent message and consistent policies.”

Heffernan chose to table the bill after several lawmakers took issue with it when debated in the House Education Committee Wednesday, pointing primarily to the cost it would entail.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, presented by Mike Morton of the Controller General’s Office, the bill would cost the state anywhere from $620,000 to $1.5 million, assuming 20 to 50 percent of the possible dropouts remain in school.

The local share that districts would be responsible for could range anywhere from $211,000 to $528,000, which was outlined in the fiscal note.

Rep. Earl Jacques (D-Glasgow) said he was worried that districts would not be prepared for the impending costs.

“These are schools that are already strapped,” he said.

Rep. Joseph Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley) worried that the bill would have a negative impact on the school community.

“My concern is quite often the school environment is improved when students who do not want to be there are gone,” he said.

Miro suggested that officials focus efforts on pinpointing the reasons why students drop out and look to offer more programs to help ninth and tenth graders, the age at which dropout rates are highest.

Rep. Harvey Kenton (R-Milford) agreed with Miro.

“Let’s find out why these kids are dropping out,” he said. “We need to address that, not their age.”

Scott Reihm, executive director of the Delaware Association of School Administrators raised concern with the exemption that allows students age 16 to drop out if they have a job.

“It seems counterproductive to the reform efforts we’ve been trying to put in place already,” he said.

Heffernan said after listening to her fellow representatives, she realizes some portions of the bill need to be reworked. She proposed to make changes and bring a revised version back to the committee when the General Assembly reconvenes in March.