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Ga.'s Miller Proposes Raising Compulsory Age to 18

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Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia has proposed raising the state's compulsory-school-attendance age from 16 to 18 as part of a package of education reforms.

"All these new educational initiatives are geared toward keeping children in school so they are better prepared to enter the workforce,'' Mr. Miller said in his State of the State Address last week.

"Six other Southern states have already raised their compulsory age to 17 or 18,'' Mr. Miller said. "We cannot allow Georgia to drag at the tail end.''

In coming out in support of an increase in the compulsory-attendance age, Mr. Miller breathed new life into a proposal that has come up in the legislature twice in recent years but languished in committee, said Glenn Newsome, the assistant deputy superintendent of the state education department.

"Obviously, with the Governor initiating it, that lends more potential for passage,'' Mr. Newsome said.

The proposal, nonetheless, has again been met with skepticism by some educators, who question the value of keeping the students in school if they do not want to be there.

"To keep students in school longer and to provide the same programs and processes that are in place will not resolve the problem,'' says a position paper by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals.

Any increase in the compulsory-attendance age should be accompanied by significant increases in funding for personnel, staff development, and facilities, the paper argues.

Just Dropping Dropout Rate?

Mr. Miller's proposal would raise the age at which students can leave school without a diploma to 17 in 1993-1994 and to 18 in 1994-1995.

Mr. Newsome said education department officials worked with the Governor to develop the measure because "young people are just not equipped, if they drop out of school, to function in today's and tomorrow's society.''

The measure's positive impact on education, Mr. Newsome asserted, would be amplified by the Governor's other initiatives and various alternative-education programs being developed by the department.

But Richard A. Kruse, the director of government relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, described raising the compulsory-attendance age as an inexpensive way of making dropout rates decline without completely addressing the causes of the problem.

According to the Education Commission of the States, at least nine states have raised their compulsory-attendance ages since 1978.

Charter Schools Proposed

The increase in the compulsory-attendance age was one of five education proposals put forward by Governor Miller this month.

"Our schools are caught in a time warp,'' Mr. Miller said in announcing his initiatives, which he described as seeking to "literally begin to reinvent the public educational system in Georgia.''

The Governor called for charter schools that would operate free of state rules and statutes and create their own performance-based accountability measures.

The schools would operate under renewable three-year contracts with both their local school systems and the state board of education.

To provide seed money for the charter plan, which backers see as being launched with 10 or 20 schools, the Governor proposed establishing a public-private partnership called the Next Generation Schools Project.

Mr. Miller recommended that $2 million in state funds be appropriated for the partnership, with the intent being to leverage matching amounts from private and local sources. The funds would be used to help fund charter schools through their transition, he said.

The Governor also said the state's Professional Standards Commission and several of its colleges and universities were working with the U.S. Defense Department to develop special programs to help military personnel get into teaching careers.

To measure the effectiveness of these and other efforts to improve education, Mr. Miller also proposed establishing a Council for School Performance to issue a yearly report on the state's schools.

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