South Dakota legislature considering lowering mandatory school attendance age

For more than a decade, South Dakota required students to stay in school until they are 18. Lawmakers will debate lowering the age to 16.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 8:06 PM CST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - In 2009 the South Dakota Legislature voted to raise the mandatory school attendance age to 18. This week lawmakers are trying to reverse that by introducing Senate Bill 65.

In South Dakota, children are required to attend school on a regular basis until the age of 18, but if passed Senate Bill 65 would lower the age requirement to 16.

Nicole Swigart, the Rapid City Area School District interim CEO, believes lowering the age could have long-term negative impacts on students.

“I think all the brain research shows that the brain is still developing. So to make lifelong decisions at such a young age would be very hard to reconcile later,” said Swigart.

Many technical or trade schools in South Dakota require a high school diploma or GED equivalent.

Swigart added, “High-paying jobs don’t exist for 16-year-olds. They are living at home at 16 and making wages at a lower-paying job is enough for them when they live at home. They can pay their bills, they can have that phone, and get that car and pay that insurance but is it a lifetime wage? Is it the wage to allow them to live out on their own, pay all their bills, support a family, but at 16 they’re not seeing all that.”

According to South Dakota’s Department of Labor and Regulation, students must be at least 18 to sit for the GED Test and, if younger, students must have one of the following:

  • Verification from a school administrator saying the child will not graduate with their class.
  • Authorization from a court officer or court order.
  • Verification that the child is under the direction of the Department of Corrections.
  • Verification that the child is enrolled in Job Corps.