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Dropout age raised to 18

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By Jennifer Corbett, Landmark News Service

 On Monday, the General Assembly passed a law giving school boards the option to raise the dropout age for high school students.

The Senate voted 33-5 in favor of Senate Bill 97, which allows school districts to raise the age from 16 to 18.  

Monday, Governor Steve Beshear signed it into law. He called it “one of my most satisfying acts as governor.”

If more than 55 percent of school districts decide to do so, the policy becomes mandatory statewide. All other school districts would then have four years to implement the new policy.

Local school officials were supportive of the law, while local legislators were lukewarm toward the new policy change.

Giving districts a few years to implement the change was a legislative compromise to help schools better prepare for alternative programs to help at-risk students.

Superintendent Sam Sanders said he supports the decision.

“We can’t afford to have any student drop out,” he said.

Since 2007, Gov. Beshear has been a proponent of raising the high school dropout age and has been pushing lawmakers to take action. Before it can become law, Beshear must sign the bill.

“Today is a very good day — for our schools, for our students, and for the future workforce of our commonwealth,” Beshear and his wife, Jane, said in a press release Monday. “This bill will help to break the cycle of poverty, close the revolving door of prison and improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians.”

For five years, legislators have struggled to find common ground on who should decide the high school dropout age. Some thought raising the dropout age should be mandated, others thought it should be up to individual school districts.

In the end, legislators came to a compromise by deciding that school boards could decide whether or not to increase the dropout age. But once more than half of school districts pass the new policy, it will become mandatory statewide. 

There’s “something in it for everybody not to like,” said State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon. “Some are going to say it didn’t go far enough, and some will say it went too far.”

Higdon, who voted for the measure, said his initial problem with the bill was mandating schools to raise the dropout age.

“I want to give them as much leeway without mandating things to them,” Higdon said.

He added that he’s comfortable with the final version because “in a compromise piece of legislation, you don’t always get what you want.”

State Rep. David Floyd said he objected to the part of the bill that leaves the decision in the hands of the school board and superintendent. He proposed an amendment, which was defeated in a House vote, that would leave the decision in the hands of each school’s site-based decision-making council, instead of the school board.

“They’re the ones doing the work, not the school board, not the (Kentucky Education Association) and not the superintendent,” Floyd said. “I just wanted to make a point. (The decision) should include the people doing the work.”

While his amendment didn’t pass, Floyd said he’s content with SB 97.

“We make our cases, fight the fight, and when we do not prevail, we accept the outcome,” Floyd said. “So we’ll make the best of it.”

Editor Linda Ireland contributed to this story.