May 14, 2003

House Bill 274: Raising Compulsory Attendance Age From 16 to 18

Representative Carol C. Juneau (D) HD 85

F:\WebHSLDA\Shared\Legislation\State\mt\2003\MTSB276 House Bill 274 would have raised the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18. This legislative proposal would have exempted students who had completed the 12th grade or had passed the GED examination.

We oppose all attempts to expand the compulsory attendance age, since it would increase the amount of time the state has jurisdiction over our children. This bill would have potentially given public school officials two more years to harass or investigate Montana homeschools.

On January 22, 2003, the House Education Committee of the Montana Legislature conducted a hearing on the bill. On January 27, 2003, the Committee voted to table the bill, which, as a practical matter, killed the bill. Since the Montana Legislature adjourned sine die on April 26, 2003, the bill is now dead.

HSLDA's Position:
This legislation was a bad idea because:

- Raising the compulsory attendance age will not reduce the dropout rate. In fact, the two states with the highest high school completion rates (Maryland, 94.5% and North Dakota, 94.7%) compel attendance only to age 16, but the state with the lowest completion rate (Oregon, 75.4%) compels attendance to age 18. (Figures are three-year averages, 1996 through 1998.)

- Most states (28) only require attendance to age 16. Older children unwilling to learn can cause classroom disruptions and even violence, making learning harder for their classmates who truly want to learn.

- When California raised the age of compulsory attendance, unwilling students were so disruptive that new schools had to be built just to handle them and their behavior problems, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

- In 1999, a similar bill (which did not pass) in Montana to increase the compulsory attendance age had a fiscal impact of $4,000,000, a conservative estimate of the cost to Montana taxpayers for the current legislative proposal.

- This bill would require homeschool families to submit to two more year of governmental red tape and threat of legal action in the event of an alleged violation.

- It would restrict parents' freedom to decide if their 16-year-old is ready for college or the workforce. Some 16-year-olds who are not academically inclined benefit more from valuable work experience than from being forced to sit in a classroom.

- While a student who had successfully completed the GED exam would not be subject to the compulsory attendance law, the age at which a student may take this exam may be raised by the Office of Public Instruction from 16 to 18 as well.

- If the age for taking the GED is changed to 17 or 18, this could prevent 16 year olds from taking the exam for college admission or votech school as is presently permitted in Montana.

 Other Resources

Bill Text

Testing and attendance age changes proposed

1/21/2003 - Calls Needed to Defeat Bill Expanding Government's Control Over Children

1/28/2003 - Montana--Victory in House Education Committee on H.B. 274