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Md. considers increasing mandatory age for attending public school

Bill would gradually increase age from 15 years old to 17

April 30, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools’ student population is projected to increase by the equivalent of 2,278 full-time students in the next 10 years, but that does not account for a possible increase in the proposed compulsory age to attend public school, according to a school system official and enrollment documents.

Maryland’s state legislature approved a bill that would gradually increase the age for compulsory public school attendance from 15 years old to 17 years old by the 2017-18 school year, but the governor has not signed the bill.

Gov. Martin O’Malley is a strong supporter of the bill, as he agrees with President Obama’s call to action to keep students in school and on track to graduate, said Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for the governor.

However, O’Malley is not scheduled to sign the bill yet because it has financial implications that need to be reviewed after a state budget agreement is settled, Winfield said Monday.

Senate Bill 362 calls for the compulsory attendance age to increase to 16, effective with the 2015-16 school year. The compulsory attendance age would increase to 17 for the 2017-18 school year.

The bill allows for exceptions, such as a youth who has earned a GED.

During the April 17 school board meeting, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox told the board that the legislation would probably have an “inconsequential” effect on enrollment projects because the school system’s dropout rate has been so low.

According to a February report, the school system had 138 students drop out last school year, compared with 127 dropouts during the 2009-10 school year.

Board member Donna Brightman said it looks like mandated prekindergarten is expected as well, which also would affect enrollment. The school system has limited prekindergarten slots now.

The state has not yet mandated prekindergarten.

Chad Criswell, the school system’s senior planning manager and planning supervisor, presented the enrollment projections to the board April 17. The enrollment estimates for the later years are subject to more revisions due to variables such as the economy, Criswell said.

A steep enrollment increase forecast for E. Russell Hicks Middle School in the next few years depends on how quickly housing developments in the area are filled, not an actual population bubble working through the grades, Criswell said.

The projections call for Hicks’ student population to grow from 764 students next fall to 883 in 2015.

After board member Karen Harshman asked about schools that were over capacity, Wilcox said school system officials talked, internally, about reconvening some of the attendance zone study committees next year to start looking at over-capacity issues. The groups would talk not just about zoning, but what the challenges are for the school system, Wilcox said.

Asked about the zoning issue after the meeting, Wilcox said “ultimately, redistricting could happen down the road,” but school system officials were not looking at that for the foreseeable future.

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