BY MICHAEL NOYES
HELENA – A bill that would raise the legal school dropout age to 18 received both support and opposition during a Wednesday afternoon hearing.
About a dozen people testified on both sides of the issue in regard to the bill introduced by Republican Senator Taylor Brown, of Huntley.
Supporters said they are concerned with the dropout rate and that the current requirement that children must attend school through age 16 is no longer enough to be successful in today’s society. Opponents said parents should make that decision and that forcing students who don’t want to attend would only make it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn.
Brown addressed a senate hearing on Education and Cultural Resources, and urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 44. Brown said the law hasn’t been changed since it was adopted in 1921.
“The current requirement is simply not enough in this society,” he said.
Brown said home schools, “are not impacted by this bill.”
A number of state residents with ties to home schools later testified against the bill.
Steve White, representing the Montana Coalition of Home Educators, said “this does effect home schoolers in Montana.”
White said the bill could be construed to put home schools under the same academic requirements as public schools.
“That’s very significant to us,” he said.
Opponents also pointed to the fiscal note of $1 million attached to the bill.
Brown said it will cost more money but that arguing about the cost is like saying the state could save money by talking more kids into dropping out of school.
Denise Juneau, the superintendent of public instruction, said the bill was introduced by Brown at the request of her office. She said more than 2,000 students drop out of school each year in Montana.
“There are no throw away kids,” Juneau said. “In today’s economic climate it is imperative that a student have a diploma or certificate.”
One person who testified identified herself as a retired teacher and said keeping students in school would not necessarily result in them learning but could detract from teaching other students.
After the hearing, Republican Senator Eric Moore, of Miles City, said he is not certain how he plans to vote on the bill.
“It’s a complex issue,” said Moore. “I think the question arises in terms of efficacy.”