As our economy slowly recovers from the recent, very severe recession, long-term changes in employment patterns are becoming evident. Lower educational attainment means not just lower pay, but a much higher chance of being unemployed. Unemployment among young entrants to the workforce is especially high – in fact, there has probably never been less opportunity for youth workers.
AIM's employer members of course value a strong work ethic, but they are equally concerned about the education and skills that prospective employees bring to the workplace. They know that in the 21st-century economy, dropping out of school to go to work is likely to be a bad decision. Legal requirements aside, the messages society sends to young people are important – and we are sending the wrong message.
School attendance is currently compulsory in Massachusetts for ages 6-16, but some 32 states now mandate school attendance to age 17 or 18, and nine require attendance from age 5. With “pre-school” increasingly recognized as integral to the education process and high school graduation becoming a near-necessity for career success, our state – with its pre-eminent knowledge-based economy – should examine the desirability and cost implications of extending its requirements.
That is why Associated Industries of Massachusetts supports a bill, H. 341, a resolution authorizing and directing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to conduct such a study. The measure is sponsored by Senator Garrett Bradley.
We do not believe that this study requirement will be an onerous task. Other states have adopted extended requirements, in some cases quite recently. As Massachusetts is in this case a follower rather than a leader, the board will be able to draw on experience elsewhere to estimate the impacts of similar changes in our state.
We do not advance our resolution in preference to more decisive action as proposed by Representative Bradley, or to a more comprehensive approach as proposed by Senator Chang-Diaz. We observe, however, that these proposals have not succeeded in past sessions, largely because of concerns about their cost implications; and we urge that at the very least the Legislature take this simple step towards a better understanding of what those costs might be.