JEFFERSON CITY _ Although a wide range of government officials urge students to stay in school and get their degrees, state law actually allows high school dropouts.
In Missouri, these students legally can quit school when they reach their 16th birthdays. Every year, about six percent of Missouri's high school students drop out, said a spokesman for the Missouri Education Department.
Some dropouts may spend many more days hunting for employment than they did counting down to their birthdays.
Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, introduced a bill designed to ensure that every student earns a diploma. The bill raises the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18 years old.
``It's the right thing to do at this time,'' Russell said. ``If we can keep them in school, then we should. Let's not encourage them to quit.''
Despite Russell's intentions, some question the effects of the legislation.
Sen. Bill Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, cited special situations in which Russell's bill does not provide an exemption to the stay-in-school requirement. Clay suggested the addition of a ``grace period'' for pregnant teens.
Russell's bill includes the following exceptions:
@|A child who has graduated from high school.
@|A child who has been determined to be mentally or physically handicapped.
@|A child who has joined a branch of the military or who is married and has at least one child and legal employment.
@|A guardian requests that the child be dropped from the rolls.
But complications of individual students were not the only uncertain implications of the bill.
Although voicing support for Russell's bill, Bob Howe, who represented the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals, said he was concerned with the availability of funding for the additional students.
``It may have some implications for staffing and facilities,'' Howe said.
Gary Sharp, a lobbyist for several education associations, suggested adding a driver's license restriction on the bill.
That approach has been incorporated in a House bill sponsored by Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield. Hosmer's bill would deny a driver's license to any student not attending school who is younger than 18 years old.
The Senate committee recently approved the bill with an amendment that would provide an additional exception for children permanently expelled from school.