TRENTON – The Senate Education Committee this afternoon passed S647, which would raise the age requirement of compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18.
State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35), North Haledon, is the bill’s prime sponsor.
“The United States has a dropout epidemic,” said Pou, testifying before the committee in support of her first bill as a new senator. “This is the best way to get our children one step closer to getting a high school diploma. It sends a positive message that we believe in them. This is not a perfect bill, but it’s a good start.”
The senator cited a recent report from the Civic Enterprise, which indicated that one third of all public school students fail to graduate with their class.
One half of Blacks and Latinos fail to graduate, she said.
“Dropping out of high school is equivalent to choosing a life of financial hardship,” said Pou. “Eighty-percent of our prison population is composed of high school dropouts.”
A wary state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7) had a question.
“I’m just wondering if, at the age of 17, they (students meeting graduation requirements) decide to leave school, do the truancy laws come into effect?”
“Part of this particular bill is to address some of the truancy statutes,” Pou said. “They are somewhat antiquated. Many of those laws are from a punitive point of view as opposed to a support system.”
State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15) fretted about warehousing.
“What are we going to do to make sure these children are learning?” the senator wanted to know.
“I think this is a well-intentioned bill and we all share in the intention of children graduating from high school,” Turner added later.
The committee passed the bill 3-1-1, which has the support of the NJEA. Allen said she likes the concept but abstained because she does not believe the bill is complete at the present time. New to the committee as a replacement for state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-21), state Sen. Mike Doherty (R-23) voted against the bill.
“We spend tens of billions of dollars, and it’s a huge, impersonal government bureaucracy. For a lot of students it’s like going to the DMV. These huge schools benefit one entity: the people running them.”
Turner, State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) (the committee chair), and state Sen. Jim Beach (D-6) supported the bill to move it out of committee.