CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's state superintendent said Tuesday that fewer 16-year-old students dropped out of high school after the compulsory attendance age was raised to 17, but hundreds still stopped going to class.
West Virginia State Superintendent James Phares told lawmakers during an interim legislative meeting that the number of 16-year-olds who dropped out of school in the 2011-2012 school year declined more than half from the previous year. The 2011-2012 school year was the first one that the law was in effect.
The number dropped from 694 to 359, according to figures provided to lawmakers. Phares says the total number of 16-year-olds who were in the ninth-grade when they dropped out declined by 36 percent, from 344 to 125, during the same time.
"Raising the age made a significant difference,'' Phares said.
West Virginia officials have been struggling for years to increase graduation rates. Raising the compulsory attendance age to 17 was seen by lawmakers as a way to help achieve that goal while boosting the state's economy and reducing the negative social effects associated with high school dropouts.
Among other things, each class of dropouts costs West Virginians more than $55 million in lifetime health care costs, according to The Alliance for Excellent Education.
It's too soon to know how successful raising the compulsory attendance age to 17 will prove and some lawmakers have suggested it may need to be raised to 18, as some other states have already done.
Parents can be fined up to $100 and required to pay prosecution costs when their child does not attend school as required by law. After being convicted a second time, parents can be fined again and can be required to go to school and remain there throughout the school day as long as a judge wants.
The other option is to be sentenced to jail between five and 20 days.
State law also says anyone who harbors or employs a student older than 16 who is enrolled in school and required to be there without the written permission of the county superintendent can be fined and put in jail for 30 days.