By Jim Warren – firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — A bill to raise Kentucky’s compulsory school-attendance age to 18 was approved Tuesday morning by the state House Education Committee.
Now, Kentucky youngsters can drop out of school at 16 with parental consent. House Bill 189 would raise that to 17 by July 1, 2010, and to 18 effective July 1, 2011.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already require students to stay in school until they either turn 18 or graduate from high school.
Backers say the measure would help keep Kentucky youngsters in school and out of trouble, while raising the state’s education profile generally. The concept, however, has had rough sledding in the General Assembly for the past 12 years.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, has tried without success since 1997 to get it passed. The measure continued to draw questions Tuesday.
Yonts and other supporters told committee members that keeping students in school longer would help them get better jobs, boosting incomes statewide by $37 million a year. And because youngsters who drop out of school are more likely to get into trouble with the law, $50 million in criminal-justice costs could be saved, they said.
But Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, countered that the bill might backfire by keeping students in school who don’t want to be there. They might become a distraction for students who want to be in class and learning, Collins and other critics contended.
Yonts said the bill is “no magic bullet” and will have to be accompanied by measures to keep students engaged and interested in education.
HB 189 ultimately passed over the “no” votes of Collins and Reps. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, and Ted Edmonds, D-Jackson. All others present voted in favor of the bill, except for Reps. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, and Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, who voted “pass.”
In 2007, 6,175 students in grades 9-12 dropped out of Kentucky schools, according to the state Department of Education. There were 194,538 total students enrolled in those grades.
The state’s drop-out rate has been declining since the early to mid 1990s. For example, the rate in 2007 was 3.17 percent , down from 5.53 percent in 1995.
Those who don’t graduate from high school can expect to earn a salary of about $21,000 a year, according to 2005 figures from the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Those who do graduate can expect to earn $30,000 a year.