Every state has “compulsory education” laws that require school attendance. In Florida, that means children between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend full-time school until they graduate. Even at 16 or 17, however, dropouts need to jump through some hoops before they can legally leave school. Below is a summary of the state’s requirements for staying in school, dropping out, and getting high school equivalency diplomas.
Requirements for Dropping Out Legally
Once students are 16 years old, Florida law allows them to leave school before graduating. Still, the state does its best to prevent them from doing that by requiring several steps. Before dropping out, the students must:
- file a formal declaration with the school board, in which they acknowledge that dropping out is likely to reduce their earning potential,
- get their parents’ written consent (by having them signing the declaration)
- participate in an exit interview with the school counselor or other school officials, when they’ll discuss any measure that could help the students stay in school or continue their education in a different environment (including a prep course for a high school equivalency test); and
- complete a survey about their reasons for dropping out and what the school did to prevent that from happening.
(Fla. Stat. § 1003.21(1)(c).)
The state’s compulsory education laws don’t specifically say when students can drop out without parental permission. They should have the right to make that decision on their own when they’re no longer minors: at age 18 or when they become legally emancipated. (Fla. Stat. §39.01(12).)
Costs of Dropping Out
Most people know that dropping out of school is likely to bring financial consequences down the road. But they might not realize there could also be legal consequences. If students simply stop going to class before they graduate or meet the other requirements for leaving school, they could face a range of penalties. (For more details on that, see our article on what happens to truants and their parents in Florida.)
Also, Floridians who drop out of school won’t be able to get a driver’s license before they turn 18, unless they have a high school equivalency diploma, are attending GED prep classes or other approved educational activities, or have received a hardship waiver or exemption certificate. (Fla. Stat. § 322.091.)
High School Equivalency Tests
A high school equivalency diploma is the same as a regular high school diploma for purposes of Florida’s compulsory education laws (as well as admission to state universities or colleges). Floridians can receive an equivalency diploma by passing the GED test. Generally they have to be 18 in order to take the test, but 16 and 17 year olds can get a waiver of the age requirement in “extraordinary circumstances.” Local school districts decide what circumstances qualify, and a school board representative must sign the waiver form. (Fla. Stat. § 1003.435.)