FRANKFORT — As of Tuesday, local school boards can vote to require students to remain in school until they’re 18, and districts can apply for $10,000 grants from the state to help them implement the new dropout age.
After three years of sometimes contentious debate between Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, the legislature approved a compromise measure in 2013 which allows districts to raise the drop-out age voluntarily.
Once 55 percent — or 96 districts — adopt the older dropout age, it becomes mandatory for the remaining districts.
Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear have pushed the increase for years, and Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, got the bill passed each time through the Democratic-controlled House.
The bill died in the Republican-controlled Senate because Republicans saw it as another “unfunded mandate” which would increase costs for districts for alternative education classes or disrupt traditional classrooms with students who don’t want to be in school.
However, the two sides worked out a compromise in 2013, and after the session came to a close, Beshear and Dr. Terry Holliday, Commissioner of Education, announced KDE would use $550,000 in drop-out prevention money to fund 55 grants to jump start the path to a mandatory drop-out age of 18.
“Our goal is to graduate every student in Kentucky ready for college and career,” Holliday said. “We can’t do it if they’re not in school.”
Beshear said dropping out harms both the students who drop out and the entire state.
“The days of dropping out of high school and expecting a dependable, well-paying job are long gone,” Beshear said. If those who dropped out of Kentucky schools in 2009 had gone on to graduate high school, he said, they would have earned an additional $4.2 billion in wages over their lives.
During floor debates on the bill, Greer often cited research which shows high school graduates live longer, are less likely to become teen parents and are more likely to raise healthier, better educated children of their own.
He also said dropouts are more likely to commit crimes or rely on government healthcare or other forms of assistance.
Some districts have already sought the grants, but Tuesday was the first day they can officially adopt the new dropout age and then apply for the grants.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.