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When Can You Drop Out of School in Wisconsin?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Wisconsin students may legally drop out after they turn 18—but not immediately. Learn about the state's compulsory education law, alternatives to regular school, and when you can earn a GED.

Under Wisconsin law, all children between the ages of 6 and 18 must attend school. But students can’t legally drop out the minute they turn 18, and the state offers alternatives to regular school or homeschooling for some younger students. Read on to learn more about the state’s compulsory education law and how to qualify for alternative education.

Dropping Out and School Alternatives in Wisconsin

Many states allow students to drop out as soon as they reach the upper age limit for compulsory education. In Wisconsin, however, students must stay in school until the end of the semester or other school term when they turned 18.

Wisconsin also offers alternatives to dropping out for certain 16- and 17-year-old students who have their parents’ permission:

  • Instead of going to regular school or along with part-time classes, students who are at least 16 years old and are at risk of dropping out may attend a technical college program that will lead to high school graduation.
  • Students who are at least 17 years may be excused from regular school to participate in another type of program or modified curriculum that will lead to either graduation or a high school equivalency diploma, such as a GED prep course or a work-study program.

(Wis. Stat. § 118.15 (2019).)

Costs of Dropping Out

Studies consistently show that dropouts suffer long-term financial setbacks. But they could also face immediate legal consequences in Michigan if they simply stop going to school before they turn 18. The state authorizes local governments to impose a range of penalties for truancy, including fines, suspension of their driver’s license, work programs or community service, curfews, and revocation of work permits. (Wis. Stat. § 118.163 (2019)).

Regardless of local laws, Wisconsin residents who are under 18 can’t get a driver’s license if they don’t have a high school diploma, are “habitual truants” (with five or more unexcused absences in a semester), or aren’t currently enrolled in school or a high school equivalency program (Wis. Stat. § 343.06 (2019)).

High School Equivalency Tests

Wisconsin residents generally can’t earn a high school equivalency diploma or GED certificate—or even take the test—until they’re at least 18.5 years old or their ninth grade class has graduated. However, students who are participating in alternative education programs may be able to take the test.

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