Under the “compulsory education” law in Texas, children must attend full-time school until they turn 19. But there are exceptions, and some students may drop out early. 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
In general, Texas law requires students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 19. However, students who are at least 17 can drop out legally if they’re attending a course to prepare for the high school equivalency exam and meet one of the other requirements:
- they have their parents’ permission
- they’re living apart from their parents or other legal custodians
- they’re homeless, or
- a court has ordered them to take the prep course.
Even 16-year-olds can drop out under certain conditions, including when they’re taking a prep class for the equivalency exam and are either enrolled in a Job Corps training program or are under a public agency’s supervision. (Tex. Educ. Code §§ 25.085, 25.086.)
School Alternatives and Exemptions
Texan students don’t have to attend public school if:
- they’re in private school
- they’re eligible for special education, but the school district can’t provide appropriate services for them
- they can't attend school because of a temporary physical or mental condition, and they have a doctor's certificate that describes the treatment and how long it will take; or
- they’ve been expelled, and their district doesn’t participate in an alternative juvenile justice education program.
(Tex. Educ. Code § 25.086.)
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 that there could also be legal consequences. If students simply stop going to school before they graduate, turn 19, or meet the other requirements, they could face a range of penalties in Texas for truancy.
High School Equivalency Certificates
Texas residents who are at least 18 years old can obtain a high school equivalency certificate if they pass one of the three equivalency exams offered in the state. Some younger dropouts are also eligible to take the test if they meet other requirements, including:
- parental permission for 17-year-olds who aren’t married or in the military
- an order by the truancy court or recommendation by a public agency for 16-year-olds, or
- participation in a Job Corp training program for those as young as 16.
(For more information, see the Texas Education Agency’s page on high school equivalency testing.)
Driving Restrictions for Early Dropouts
Texans who drop out of school won’t be able to get a driver’s license before they turn 18, unless they’re enrolled in high school equivalency prep course. If students already have a license when they stop going to school, it may be suspended. (Tex. Trans. Code § 521.204; Tex. Fam. Code § 65.103(c).)