The rate at which teenagers drop out of school in West Virginia is alarming. Simply increasing the age at which students can drop out legally only addresses a symptom of the root problem, however.
State legislators looking into the dropout rate say it has reached nearly 22 percent. In other words, more than one of every five younsters who start school in the state drop out before receiving their high school diplomas.
Those young people are doomed to lives of second-class economic citizenship - if even that. Many of them will require public assistance at some time during their lives. That costs taxpayers money we need not have spent had the dropouts persisted in school and earned diplomas leading to good-paying jobs.
Dropouts were on the minds of some lawmakers when the 2010 legislative session began just a few weeks ago. At that time some planned to address the problem simply by increasing the legal dropout age, now 16 years, to 17.
Since then legislators have learned more about the problem and reflected upon it. As state Sen. Randy White, D-Webster, pointed out this week, "There are some concerns that just raising the age in itself is not going to have an effect on dropouts ..."
Webster added that some legislators are asking, "Once you raise the dropout age, what else are you going to do?"
Obviously merely raising the legal dropout age to 17 would have some impact on the problem. But some teenagers - backed by parents who have no understanding of the importance of education - may choose to disobey the law and quit school anyway.
A more broad-based approach is needed. More needs to be done to help children whose learning disabilities frustrate them to the point that they drop out of school. More needs to be done to convince students - and, again, their parents - that school is important. More needs to be done to make school seem relevant to some teenagers who, as matters stand, see no reason to be learning about Shakespeare and algebra.
Raising the dropout age to 17 may help. Legislators should take that action - but then, they should begin addressing the more knotty questions of why young people choose to leave school without diplomas.