A bill that would require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18 passed the Senate education committee, shortly after passing the Assembly education committee last week.
Now state law requires instruction until age 16. Bills to boost the mandatory attendance age have bounced around New Jersey for years but got new attention when President Obama called for compulsory schooling until 18 or graduation in his state of the union speech last month.
Supporters argue requiring more schooling would help young people get the skills they need to thrive in a harsh, high-tech economy. Keeping more teens in school would be expensive, however, especially because many experts say raising the school departure age works only if there’s a comprehensive network of alternative programs and social services to keep them engaged. Many drop out because of family crises, pregnancy, addiction and other problems.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who heads the education committee, said the bill was just the beginning of a public discussion about how to prevent dropouts, and said keeping them in school would pay off long-term. Studies show dropouts are more likely to impose costs on taxpayers through crime, jail and welfare dependency. With more teens getting diplomas, “We would have a better base of people who have the ability to work,” Ruiz said.