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Manitoba is set to become the latest province to force students to stay in school until they either graduate or turn 18.

It's part of a growing national movement based on the belief that anything less than a high school diploma is not enough in today's job market.

"We want to raise the bar," Education Minister Nancy Allan said Thursday. "If you only have a Grade 10 education [minimum requirement] you can be slamming the door for these students, so we want to make sure that we're preparing our students for the modern economy."

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Ms. Allan plans to table a bill in the coming days to raise the minimum age for dropping out of school to 18 from 16. Students would be allowed to leave earlier only if they earn a high-school diploma or join a recognized work force training program.

Ontario and New Brunswick raised their dropout ages to 18 four years ago and there are signs other provinces may follow. The Toronto District School Board has also mused about paying poor students to attend school and get good grades, although the province's Education Minister says she's opposed to the idea.

The Alberta School Boards Association is to debate the idea this weekend. "High school completion is a minimum expectation for success in our global society," reads a resolution put forward by the public school division in Edmonton.

The idea has also been bandied about in Nova Scotia. The NDP government had been considering a recommendation from a working group that the dropout age be raised to 18, but it was not accepted when the government announced a new education policy this month.

While there is widespread support for keeping teens in school, some question how far courts or schools will go to force students to attend class.

"What if the kid says, 'I'm dropping out?' How is this law going to have any teeth?" asked Mike Babinsky, a long-time school trustee for the Winnipeg School Division.

Manitoba's current law allows school boards to take parents of truants under 16 to court, where judges can impose fines of up to $500. But Mr. Babinsky could not remember any such measure being taken in the 15 years he has been a trustee.

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"For you to go do the investigation in regards to the child actually dropping out and actually taking it to the courthouse and getting representation ... it's not worth it. I don't believe any school division in Manitoba has ever done that," he said.

"With everybody trying to stretch the almighty dollar as far as you can, you don't want to go spend $5,000."

Ms. Allan says the government is considering new enforcement measures, including stiffer fines.

"That's something we're looking at," she said. "We will be introducing the legislation in the next couple of weeks. There's going to be an opportunity for a lot of dialogue with our education partners on this and we want to make sure we get it right."

Currently, one student out of every five in Manitoba doesn't graduate from high school.



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