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Bozeman students, superintendent hope legislators move to raise dropout age

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 25 2013 07:41:48 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Superintendent Juneau recently released the latest graduation rates and dropout numbers for the 2011-2012 school year.  The data indicates graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down.  Even so, nearly 1,900 students in grades seventh through twelfth dropped out of school in 2011.

I spoke to students and local school leaders to see if they thought raising the dropout age would make a difference here in Bozeman.

Ben Bunch is fifteen.  He says he plans on graduating and eventually going to college.  But he can't say the same for some of his friends.

"I have a few friends and they just didn't really want to be in school and never really tried," says Bunch.

Bunch tells me they dropped out at 16 but says if the legal dropout age were 18, it would've made a difference in their lives, at least for a little while.

"A lot of them wouldn't go to college or anything.  They'd still just not really do much," explains Bunch.

But students like Payton Turney say raising the dropout age is worth a shot.

"Do you think 16 is too young to drop out of school?" I asked.
"Yeah," replied Turney.

Turney tells me even if kids don't want to stay in school, having consequences for dropping out before the legal minimum would help to deter them and help school leaders reach their bottom line.

"So they can learn more and get better jobs," says Turney.

Bozeman School Superintendent Rob Watson says they've already seen a decrease in the number of students who drop out from 4% last year, to 2.7% this year.

"We've started some programs at the high school.  One of them is credit recovery where students that fall behind on credits can attend a program on campus to regain their credits and get caught up.  I think that's been real helpful for our students," explains Watson.

He says new measures the alternative school is taking to keep kids on track to graduate also helps.  Yet, Watson says they do notice more dropouts after students turn 16.

"We believe that high school graduation is important for all of our students and raising the dropout age may actually help keep more students in school, which would be a positive thing," says Watson.

According to Superintendent Denise Juneau, raising the dropout age would help keep more students in school, about 244 students to be exact.  Students like Ben Bunch's friends.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee considered SB 13, the bill to raise the dropout age.  No action was taken.

This is the second time Superintendent Juneau's asked lawmakers to raise the age.  Legislators killed the effort in 2011.