Last week in a surprising move, senators voted 26-19 to approve the proposal that allows teen-agers to drop out of school at age 15. Current law stipulates students must stay in school until they reach the age of 17.
After the Senate voted Tuesday to, in effect, kill the bill that lowered the compulsory school attendance age, Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said, “As somebody else said, we are fighting dinosaurs. This is something that was resolved 20 years ago. I thought it was a settled issue that children should go to school until age 17.”
But it was not a “settled issue” last week in the Senate. Sen. Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, offered an amendment to change a bill so that students could drop out of school if they turned 15 before Sept. 1. Under Robertson’s proposal, students who turned 15 after Sept. 1 would have to stay in school through that school year.
On Tuesday morning the Senate reconsidered the bill, then sent it back to the Education Committee, which in effect is the same as killing the effort to lower the compulsory school attendance age. The motion to send the proposal back to committee passed on a voice vote. Some senators still voted against the motion to send it back to committee and thus kill it.
While Robertson did not speak against the motion that killed his proposal, he defended it after the vote.
“I have talked to teachers and school principals and they tell me this (effort to lower the compulsory school attendance age) is one of the most positive things the Legislature has done in awhile,” Robertson said.
He added, “We have these 16 and 17 years olds in junior high causing most of the problems.”
Robertson blamed the Senate’s change of mind on newspaper editorials that he said misrepresented what he was trying to do.
Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, who opposed the Robertson amendment last week and supported sending the bill back to committee Tuesday, said he thought the senators changed their minds because they “were caught off guard (last week) when they voted for the Robertson amendment . … They weren’t thinking.”
The original intent of the bill the House sent over was to clarify that students who turn 17 during the school year could not drop out until the school year was completed. In the Senate Education Committee, the House bill was changed to essentially raise the compulsory school attendance age by saying students who turn 18 after Sept. 1 had to remain in school for that school year.
But the Robertson amendment replaced 18 with 15, meaning children who turn 15 in the summer before what would normally be their sophomore year could drop out.
Based on the action of the Senate Tuesday, the law will not be changed at all this year. That means there is some question on when students who turn 17 can drop out. The House proposal had said students who turn 17 during the school year would be required to remain in school for the remainder of the school year. There is an Attorney General’s opinion saying students who turn 17 during the school year must finish the calendar year.