SHERIDAN — About five years ago, the Sheridan County School District 2 board of trustees wanted the district to re-evaluate how it helps students graduate high school. In response, SCSD2 started initiatives such as the parent liaison program and graduation coach at Sheridan High School.
SCSD2 administrators also brought two resolution proposals to the board: increasing the public high school dropout age from 16 to 18 and revoking or eliminating driving privileges for students who drop out of public high school, commonly known as No Pass No Drive.
The board approved the proposals and has brought them to the Wyoming School Board Association for approval over the past few years. Last year, the WSBA approved the dropout age proposal but did not approve No Pass No Drive. The dropout age proposal, however, did not receive serious consideration at the legislative budget session in February.
In less than two months, the SCSD2 board will again present the two resolutions to the WSBA during its annual conference Nov. 15-16.
SCSD2 assistant superintendent Mitch Craft said the resolutions are mainly to address the paradox of the state holding high schools accountable for graduation rates but also having a current legal dropout age of 16.
“If the state expects us to keep kids in school until they’re 18, the law should align with that,” Craft said.
SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty said many Wyoming citizens want as little government interference as possible, especially when it relates to individual rights, which could explain why the resolutions haven’t passed.
Similarly, homeschooled students are excluded from the dropout age proposal because SCSD2 doesn’t want to infringe on parents’ rights to educate their children.
“People have the right to choose to educate their children at home in Wyoming, and we want to be clear that we are in no way suggesting that that right go away,” Craft said.
Dougherty strongly believes in the impact graduating high school will have on a person’s life.
“Receiving that high school diploma is just the beginning of their journey of being a productive citizen,” Dougherty said. “When kids are making that choice before they really should be given that opportunity, they’re basically destined for being on government assistance and in poverty.”
Dougherty said if a student drops out at 16, he or she is a drain on the economy. Statistics generally back up that assertion. According to a 2014 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for dropouts is more than twice as high as college grads, and the lifetime earnings of high school dropouts are about $260,000 less on average than high school graduates.
Wyoming’s 2017 high school graduation rate was 80.2 percent, compared to about 84 percent nationally. SCSD2 had a graduation rate of 86.1 percent.
Dougherty said SCSD2 will bend over backward to help a student graduate. If a student works to support his or her family, for example, the district could offer online classes or flexible scheduling and work with local nonprofits and agencies to assist the student.
“No child should ever have to leave school to pay the bills,” Dougherty said. “They can help pay the bills, that’s a reality of some families, but no child should have to forego a free and appropriate education to support their family.”
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Wyoming, a member of the state’s education committee, didn’t give a definite answer on whether he supports the resolutions, but he did say the dropout age proposal would likely increase graduation rates, in turn improving future chances of monetary success.
“With a high school graduation, certainly from an earnings standpoint and a career standpoint, they’re far better off than if they don’t (graduate),” Kinner said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, but those who don’t — wow, they’ve just got it tough. They’ve gotta struggle in order to sort through all that.”
For No Pass No Drive, SCSD2 administrators will leave it up to the Legislature to determine the severity and length of driving privileges being revoked or eliminated.
Kinner said he was not too familiar with the No Pass No Drive proposal but is open to discussing it. Since 1988, 27 states currently have implemented No Pass No Drive policies.
“If that would help graduation rates and be a decent incentive for some to complete (high school), then let’s take a serious look at it,” Kinner said. “If 27 states have figured it out, there ought to be some history out there that a person could lean on to help put that in place.”
The resolution proposals are one of the ways SCSD2 is working to increase high school graduation rates, and clearer answers about the proposals’ futures will emerge over the next few months.