Raising Compulsory Attendance Age: Atkinson's Parting Agenda Shot

Raising Compulsory Attendance Age Lacks Supporting Evidence

The current compulsory attendance age for attending North Carolina schools is 16. However, a resolution offered at the last State Board of Education meeting seeks to raise the compulsory attendance age to 18.

June Atkinson
Dr. June Atkinson (Photo Credit: American Lens)

Outgoing State Superintendent June Atkinson put forth the resolution at the board’s December meeting.  Atkinson had been floating the idea of raising the compulsory attendance age for many years.

Failing to win re-election and her term coming to a close, this resolution appears to be a parting shot to keep the idea alive.

Six reasons for the resolution were presented:

  • Coupled with supports for struggling students, curtail the drop-out rate.
  • It enables students to earn higher wages in the future.
  • It affords students additional benefits, such as better health and satisfaction with their lives.
  • It reflects the realities of the 21st century, with an increased need for higher levels of education.
  • It increases the prosperity of the states and the nation.
  • It promotes social mobility by enabling students of poverty to stay in school longer and complete their education.

No supporting studies or documentation for raising the compulsory attendance age accompanied the resolution document on the State Board of Education’s website.


The State Board of Education unanimously passed the resolution, however it will be up to state lawmakers to enact legislation to make it happen.

In the 2015-16 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, the idea was taken up in the original version of House Bill 1074.

The bill’s main purpose was to make testing of drinking water in schools mandatory and included seeking a pilot program to raise the graduation age to 18. The pilot program was to be enacted in three districts; Hickory, Newton-Conover and Rutherford.

House Bill 1074 underwent several revisions and the most recent version did not include raising the compulsory age. The bill’s last action shows it was referred to the Committee on Health Care.

The idea of raising the compulsory attendance age has been circulated before and the idea was raised back in 2007.  The North Carolina General Assembly took up a bill at that time what would form a study committee on the topic.

At around the same time the General Assembly was looking into the matter, the John Locke Foundation did a study on raising the compulsory attendance age and found the cost would significant and have very little impact on drop-out rates.

The John Locke study found that raising the age of attendance to 17 would have an estimate cost of $8.46 million a year. In an article by the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal explored the topic, citing the Locke Foundation report.

graduation compulsory attendance ageIn the article, Dr. Terry Stoops (also from the Locke Foundation) noted that, “There’s also no data to tie a higher compulsory age to lower dropout rates, Stoops said. “One of the two lowest dropout rates belongs to New Jersey, which has a compulsory attendance age of 16. On the other hand, Louisiana has the highest dropout rate in the nation and a compulsory attendance age of 18.”

In 2012, the Brown Center at Brookings also studied the idea of raising the compulsory attendance age. That report agreed with the 2007 findings of the John Locke Foundation. The Brown Center report stated that, “States with higher CSA ages do not have higher high school graduation rates than states with lower CSA ages.”

The Brown Center report also warned policymakers, stating that,”to the extent that policymakers think that raising the compulsory school attendance age to 18 is going to be the solution to the scourge of high dropout rates they are confusing the appearance of doing something with the reality of what is needed to address a multifaceted and challenging problem.”

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released their own findings, which concluded there was little evidence to support raising the compulsory attendance age. The report states that, “Studies simply do not provide conclusive, empirical evidence for or against increasing the compulsory school attendance age.”

The U.S. Department of Education also found that nor real value in raising the compulsory attendance age unless significant dropout reforms and “comprehensive retention programs” were enacted.

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