Keeping New Jersey kids in high school until they graduate is the goal for two Democratic state senators.

Empty Classroom
Gilles Glod, ThinkStock

Under current law in New Jersey, students must stay in school until they reach the age of 16. State Senators Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) are pushing a bill that would raise the age to 18. The measure would not include those students that graduate high school before the age of 18.

"The goal here is to get every child in a high school setting to get a high school degree,” Ruiz said. “We recognize that without that you will never get employed in this state.”

The requirement for school attendance until age 16 was created in 1914. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, 6,550 students dropped out of school during the 2013-2014 school year.

“If we really want to make a difference of providing them with an opportunity to really have employment in today’s world, we’re only going to be able to do that by them being able to acquire the education that they need,” Pou said.

During a hearing on the measure earlier this month, stakeholders in support of the legislation had suggestions to make the state a better place to educate children.

“What we need to is to find out what gets kids to this point. What makes them want to not come back to school and provide them with the resources necessary to resolve their issues,” said Melanie Schultz, director of government relations for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. “If we can be successful in finding strategies to keep them in school attendance age would not matter.”

Under the bill, parents or guardians who don't ensure that the child stays in school until they turn 18 could be deemed to be a disorderly person and be fined $25 for a first offense and not more than $100.00 for each subsequent offense.

“I suggest those fines be dedicated to the districts in which those kids attend to fund perhaps alternative programs for some of those students,” said Michael Vrancik, director of government relations for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Offering students alternative education options was another recommendation made during the committee hearing on the bill.

“My members said in response to this bill, ‘We agree with the goals, but just adding more time without more resources and strategies probably isn’t going to solve the problem,’” explained Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

The measure was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 14.

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