State senators, community discuss raising student dropout age

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia state senators are pushing to increase the age that students can drop out of school from 16 to 17 years old. 

Senator Lester Jackson of Savannah is a sponsor of the bill, which was first introduced in January 2021. On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee met in the Hostess City as part of a series of hearings across the state.

Under current state law, students can choose to drop out of school once they are 16 years old. Senate Bill 3 proposes to change the age to 17 years old.

“It’s so vitally important because we know that at age 16, there are many things a young person cannot do,” Sen. Jackson said. “They cannot smoke, they cannot drink any alcohol, they cannot have a union job at the age of 16. So really they’re restricted in a lot of areas.”

The Georgia Department of Education reported a graduation rate of nearly 84% in 2020. In Savannah-Chatham County schools, that number was close to 90%.

“Allowing young people to drop out at the age of 16 actually gives them a disservice,” Jackson said. “They cannot find a job that pays a livable wage, they cannot have access to technical or vocational education. It limits them to what they can do.”

Community members say the extra year would allow students time to develop and mature.

“At Jenkins High School, I was very much ready to drop out and I was like, ‘oh I’ll go get my GED at some point,’” said Coco Papy, Director of Development and Communications for Deep Center Savannah. “But, my life could have been very different and I was very lucky to have a support system around me of teachers and adults who cared about my future. And my life is very different for it.”

Papy’s work at Deep Center involves criminal and juvenile justice policy reform work. She argues increasing the age that students can drop out will decrease the number of juveniles in prisons.

“A simple year and an investment in our young people can lead them away from the criminal justice system, from generational poverty and the barriers that keep all communities from thriving,” Papy said.

While the bill is gaining bipartisan support, Senator Jackson said there are two points of contention.

“The opposition for most of it is the cost and choice,” he said. “People say, ‘oh no young people should have a choice.’ But, let’s talk about the cost. We have a $27 billion budget every year –  $27 billion. $12 million is pennies when we talk about saving lives.”

The Senate Study Committee is set to conclude its review in December. After that, Senator Jackson is hopeful there will be a Senate hearing and vote on the bill in 2022.

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