By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — After more than three years of unsuccessful attempts to raise Kentucky’s high school dropout age from 16 to 18, House and Senate leaders have struck a compromise that appears poised to pass.
The compromise plan would allow school districts to voluntarily raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 beginning in 2014. Once 55 percent of the state’s school districts raise the age, remaining school districts across the state would have four years to make the change.
The House Education Committee attached the compromise on Thursday to Senate Bill 97. The original version of the bill would have made raising the dropout age voluntary for all school districts beginning in 2014.
The full House is expected to vote on SB 97 on Monday or Tuesday. The chamber overwhelmingly approved a proposal last month that would require school districts to raise the dropout age gradually over several years.
Gov. Steve Beshear — who has pushed for a mandatory increase in the dropout age since 2010 — said Friday that he supported the compromise. House Education Chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, and Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, have worked on the plan with the Beshear administration, he said.
“I am hopeful that the Senate will concur,” Beshear said. “I believe everyone is in agreement on it now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
Wilson said Friday that he supported the compromise plan.
“This bill is an excellent example of … cooperation that meets the students needs while still allowing flexibility on the local level,” Wilson said.
Kentucky has allowed students to dropout at age 16 since 1920.
Opponents of raising the dropout age, including some school administrators, have said they fear that making kids stay in school would disrupt education for kids who wanted to learn. Others said the state first needed to put more money into alternative education and career and technical education so kids who struggled academically would have more options.
Beshear and others who have pushed the change noted that students who do not graduate high school are more likely to end up on costly welfare programs, in state prisons or stuck in low-paying jobs.