State officials are celebrating in the Capitol with an event to recognize 120 Kentucky school districts that have voted to raise the dropout age to 18.
Gov. Steve Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Lawrence County High School senior Harley Ratliff are holding a news conference Thursday afternoon to mark the achievement.
A new law that went into effect this summer increases the dropout age statewide from 16 to 18 after 55 percent of the state's 173 school districts signed on.
The higher dropout age becomes a statewide standard by 2017.
The Beshears made increasing the dropout age a top priority after taking office in 2007.
That means the policy will go into effect for all public school systems in the state within the next four years.
"It's an increased burden on the adults in the schools to not only make sure our students are engaged, but to ensure that they are learning and that we're meeting their needs," said Clayton, who came to Warren County after working in the Oldham County school system.
He told WKU Public Radio he thinks the increased dropout age will "raise the accountability level" for both students and educators, something he thinks will benefit all parties involved.
Kentucky is inching closer to a mandatory increase in the dropout age for public school students. As of Tuesday, 92 school districts had adopted the new minimum dropout age of 18, leaving the state only four districts shy of the number needed to make the higher age mandatory statewide.
"And once we reach 96, that would be the 55 percent we need for the policy to go statewide within four years," said Kentucky Education Department Spokesman Nancy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez adds that school boards that voted on raising their dropout ages Monday night are expected to have mailed their documentation to Frankfort Tuesday. Once that paperwork gets to Frankfort, it could push the state over the 55 percent threshold.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that allowed each school district to hold a vote on raising the dropout age to 18. The law also says that if 55 percent of school districts adopted the new dropout age, it would became policy statewide.
In the first 48 hours since a new law took effect, 54 school districts in Kentucky have voted to raise the high school dropout age to 18.
Ninety-six districts need to act in order for the higher age to become mandatory statewide. Already halfway there, Governor Steve Beshear says he's confident the goal will be met by the end of the year.
For those districts that do act early, Beshear says they'll receive $10,000 grants to implement programs for students at risk of dropping out.
"Virtually every student I know who drops out doesn't do so because they just don't want to be there or they're just not smart enough to do the work," suggests Beshear. "They drop out because they're just not interested. We haven't found a way to prick their interest in completing an education."
Senate Bill 97, known as the “Graduate Kentucky” bill, passed this year and phases in an increase in the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18, amending the school attendance law created in 1934.
Should Kentucky high schoolers have to wait until the age of 18 before they can legally drop out?
Gov. Steve Beshear thinks so, and he is vowing to again try to get such a law passed in the next General Assembly, which gets underway Jan. 8. Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear, have long been proponents of gradually raising the state's dropout age from 16 to 18. In the past, the Beshears backed a measure that would incrementally raise the dropout age over a period of years to 17 and then to 18, giving students, parents, and school districts time to adjust to the new rules.
Proponents say such a change in state law would have far-reaching societal benefits since dropouts are more likely to go to prison or rely on welfare.
Opponents say while the idea may be well-intentioned, it would simply force disruptive and uncaring students to remain in classrooms against their will, having unintended negative consequences for other students, teachers, and administrators.
Advocates for raising the dropout age in Kentucky have a new hope heading into the next legislative session. Currently, Kentucky law allows 16-year-olds to dropout of school with parental permission. And education advocates have pushed to raise the minimum dropout age to 18.
Dropout bills have consistently failed in Frankfort, but advocates are emboldened this year now that former Senate President David Williams is no longer in the General Assembly.
But new Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says that doesn't mean the bill is a sure thing.
“Because there are legitimate policy concerns we have had with raising the dropout age to 18," the Georgetown Republican says.