Harrisburg, Pa – Testifying yesterday before the state House Education Committee, Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera told lawmakers that changing the Commonwealth’s compulsory school attendance age will benefit both young children just entering school and current high school students.
Proposed changes would lower the compulsory school attendance age from eight to six and to raise the dropout age from 17 to 18.
“In this year’s budget address, Governor Wolf re-emphasized his commitment to both Pennsylvania’s students and a skilled workforce with his Statewide Workforce, Education, and Accountability Program (SWEAP) initiative, which proposes several crucial steps in laying the foundation for every Pennsylvanian to have the opportunity to succeed in a rapidly changing economy,” Secretary Rivera said.
“Amending the Public School Code’s Compulsory School Attendance requirements to lower the compulsory school attendance age from eight to six and to raise the dropout age from 17 to 18 is a significant step forward in solidifying this foundation for success.”
The current law designating the dropout age was established in 1949, at a time when a high school diploma provided an opportunity for a well-paying and promising career directly out of high school – an era when many of those jobs were available even to those who did not have that diploma, said Secretary Rivera.
But he said in today’s economy, a high school diploma is a necessity to enable students to compete in a rapidly changing 21st Century market. Nearly 14,000 students leave school every year without obtaining a high school diploma, and more than 10,000 of these students dropped out before the age of 18.
“A high school diploma carries an invaluable benefit as it sets the foundation for any post-secondary pathway we choose,” he said. “Raising the upper age for compulsory school attendance from 17 to 18 places increased emphasis on the importance of obtaining a high school diploma in the current economic climate.”
The second part of the governor’s proposal calls for lowering the age for when children must start school from eight years to six years. Currently, the School Code requires students to enroll in school by age eight, a requirement set in 1895.
“Given the importance of high-quality early childhood education, an age requirement established nearly 125 years ago is just as outdated as it sounds,” Secretary Rivera said. “Research overwhelmingly suggests an early start to formal schooling can improve language and literacy skills, increase student achievement, enhance social and emotional skill development, and reduce the need for remediation in later years.”
Pennsylvania is one of only two states to allow students to wait to begin school until the age of eight.
Secretary Rivera testified as part of the Education Committee’s review of House Bill 593, which would change the compulsory age requirements.
Secretary Rivera’s full testimony is available on the PDE website.