As the dropout age increases to 18 for most Kentucky public schools next academic year, the state education department will be closely monitoring its data.

Among the indicators that will be watched is the number of students who opt out for homeschooling.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says currently, less than 1 percent of the public school population is opting out each year.

He says the education department will use that number to measure against future data.

“We want to carefully monitor and make sure that we don’t see a significant spike in home school," added Holliday.

Holliday says the agency will primarily monitor students age 16 and above, who will soon be required to stay in public school.

Holliday says the department will also monitor grade retention, alternative and career and technical school participation and student behaviors.

Kentucky LRC

A measure approved in the state Senate would allow for the creation of piloted charter schools in Kentucky's two largest cities. However, the bill is expected to run into heavier opposition in the House.

If enacted, up to five charter schools could open in Louisville and Lexington over the next five years.  Senator Mike Wilson of Bowling Green, the bill’s sponsor, says the charters would be funded in the same way other public schools are supported with certified teachers in classrooms. 

"It gives the principal freedom for hiring his own teachers for the school and gives the teachers the freedom not to work on all the compliance issues, but really do what they love to do, which is teach our kids," said Wilson.

Wilson believes charter schools could help address achievement gap concerns.  Lexington Senator Gerald Thomas says he hasn't seen many requests for charters. "We've had no testimony from any parent saying that they feel a need for this legislation," said Thomas.

Centre College

Centre College is establishing a new full-ride scholarship program aimed at attracting students who want to make an impact overseas.

The liberal arts school in Danville has announced a $20 million challenge gift from an anonymous donor that will be used to fund the Lincoln Scholars Program. The program will award 10 scholarships a year beginning in the fall of 2016.

The anonymous gift offers a dollar-for-dollar match and is part of Centre’s Third Century Campaign, which aims to raise $200 million by 2019, when the school celebrates the bicentennial anniversary of its founding in 1819.

Centre Dean of Admissions, Bob Nesmith, says those awarded the scholarship will get more than just free tuition, room and board, and books. They’ll also receive $10,000 for an independent study project that contains an international component.

“When you take an ambitious 18 year old and say, ‘OK, put together something good and exciting for something somewhere in the world that you want to work on, and we’re going to help you fund it’--that’ll be super appealing to this kind of kid.”

At the end of Angela Kohtala's leadership skills course, her high school students have to plan and carry out a community service project. Maybe it's fixing up their school courtyard, or tutoring younger students in an afterschool program.

Afterwards, they create a PowerPoint with pictures of the project. This isn't just a nice way to develop presentation skills — it's mandatory to prove that they really weeded that garden or sat with those kids in the first place.

You see, Kohtala's students are spread across the state of Florida, while she herself lives in Maine.

Ted Eytan/taedc / Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A Madisonville North Hopkins County High School transgender student is working on a petition to allow him to use the bathroom he chooses instead of the handicap one made available for those who identify as transgender.

School officials haven’t yet received the petition, but say they’ll seek legal guidance although they aren’t aware of any laws regulating bathroom use.

Meanwhile State Senator C.B. Embry filed a bill this month requiring students use the restroom corresponding to their anatomical gender.

Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says the bill comes after a Louisville high school allowed a transgender girl to use the women’s restroom and locker room, which he says is the best option.

“When we force a trans student to use a private restroom, a handicap facility, what that does is it says you are so different that we don’t know how to accommodate you other than to isolate you and force you to use this restroom that’s all yours,” Hartman said.

Embry filed the bill after the Kentucky Family Foundation approached him with a draft of it.

In the education world, you see this phrase all the time: "free and reduced-price lunch." What's the percentage at a given school? In a given district or state?

It's not necessarily out of concern about who's getting fed. Instead, it's most often used to talk about concentrations of poverty and how that affects learning.

The phrase refers to students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program — an easily available data point for any school and any district.

All of Kentucky’s 173 public school districts have approved policies to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18. 

The General Assembly passed a law in 2013 giving school districts the option of raising the dropout age. Once 55 percent of districts did so, it would trigger a four-year deadline for everyone else to raise the age.  Democratic Governor Steve Beshear said districts beat that deadline by one year.

"What we've done is send a message," said Beshear in a news conference Thursday.  "We've sent a message to the kids, their parents, and communities that education matters and that we care about these children."

All but seven public school districts will have the new policy in place this fall.  It will take effect for the rest in the 2017-18 school year. 

The Kentucky Department of Education provided each district with a $10,000 grant to help implement the higher dropout age.

Kentucky’s teacher pension policies are receiving near-failing grades in a new report.

The National Council of Teacher Quality gives the pension plan a D-, and points out that 48-percent of the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System consists of unfunded liabilities.

Council Vice President Sandi Jacobs says the vast majority of taxpayer funds going into the system isn’t being invested in the future retirement of current employees.

“Only 23 cents on the dollar—less than the national average—is going towards the cost of the system. About 77 cents are going toward the debt.”

KTRS currently has over $13 billion in unfunded liabilities. The state budget passed by lawmakers last year provided about half the money needed to bring KTRS into the black.

Jacobs says her group also considers the system’s five-year vesting period a negative feature.

“If you leave before five years you’re not eligible for future benefits. That’s a long time to wait.”

You can see the NCTQ’s report card on Kentucky’s teacher pension policy here.


WKU President Gary Ransdell believes a White House plan to make community college free has little chance of becoming reality.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama announced a plan to offer two years of tuition-free community college to students who maintained certain academic standards.

The effort would cost about $60 billion over ten years, with the federal government picking up three-quarters of the cost, and states paying for the rest.

Speaking to WKU Public Radio during a break in Friday's Board of Regents meeting, Ransdell said that’s an unsustainable model. 

“There’s no way I can be advocate for Kentucky putting money into that and continuing to cut higher education for the public universities."

Ransdell said he understands that the technical and associate’s degrees that many community college graduates earn help drive the manufacturing sector. 

“But the reality is, it’s bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees that drive the economy, and those are the people who are the decision-makers with the intellectual skills that go into driving the economy.”

As the new — and paid — president emeritus of the Kentucky Community & Technical College System, Michael McCall will attend meetings, give advice, provide executive coaching, help hire new executives and help run a systemwide leadership academy now bearing his name.