2012 FIFTH PLACE ESSAY

Raising the Compulsory Attendance Age to 18 Creates More Problems

by Elizabeth Yamashita, Age 16
Submitting Teacher: Carrie Yamashita


All politicians make promises. What matters is "What are they promising and why?" Usually, it is a promise that our government can help us by fixing anything (and everything) wrong or "unfair" in our country. While the Federal Government believes it is assisting the people, we find out that it is only interfering with the authority of the states and the rights of the people. During his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012, President Barack Obama, hoping to reduce the current school dropout rate, proposed that "every state—every state—requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18." Applause could be heard from all around the chamber. But is this really a wise decision? Many promises ultimately come with unintended, negative consequences which directly or indirectly affect everyone.

The most visible problem with this proposal is more funding. With an increasing number of students to accommodate, schools will need additional teachers and staff. Because of already crowded classrooms, money also would have to be set aside to construct more buildings. In order to pay for this, cuts probably will have to be made in schools' budgets for materials, extra-curricular activities, and other services. While those are some obvious changes, a less visible issue is the matter of truancy. Police departments have to pay for more truancy officers. Arresting compulsory-aged teens for truancy causes additional problems with questions of where to put them, how to take it to court, and penalties for the parents.

Some teens dropped out of school to support their families by applying themselves in the workforce. Now, because of Congress' promise to guarantee a "living wage," unemployment has increased. In his video "Politicians' Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong," John Stossel explains that with the minimum wage raised to $7.25 or higher, employers could no longer pay for the same amount of employees. Teens could not find jobs. Obama's plan to "fix" this subset of unemployment is to take them off the streets and send them back to school to learn higher education and hopefully obtain a better job at a later time.

But this only increases an unhealthy environment in the schools by bringing outside problems into the school setting. Teens who would already be on the streets but were forced back to school will be negative influences on the other students. Perhaps these teens have been involved with gangs, drugs, or other problems. Mandatory attendance until 18 will not encourage the dropout-prone high school students to love learning but only disrupt their classmates who do want to study. If the students have already made up their minds to not want to learn, forcing them to sit in a chair on school days is not going to make them grow in their academic knowledge or pass their exams to earn a high school diploma.

Although Obama's proposal might seem like a great idea to decrease the number of students quitting school, it comes with unintentional consequences. It requires more school funding and creates a worse environment in the public schools. America's history is filled with instances where our government tries to fix an existing problem only to make things worse—or create even more problems which it then tries to fix, thus creating a merry-go-round effect. But this is not a proper role for the Federal Government. The Constitution of the United States clearly states that the Federal Government's goal and responsibility is to "... form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity...." Also, the 10th Amendment clarifies further saying, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." We need to return to a small, limited federal government, which our forefathers set in place. If—and only if—the people of America return to the Constitution will the seemingly never-ending merry-go-round finally come to a halt. It is time to get off the ride.