By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has found an additional $350,000 to entice school districts into raising their dropout age from 16 to 18.
Tuesday was the first day school districts could vote to raise their dropout age starting in the 2015-16 school year under a law approved earlier this year.
Once 55 percent — or 96 of the state’s 174 school districts — vote to raise the dropout age, remaining school districts will have four years to implement the change.
The Department of Education has previously said it will use $570,000 from a federal dropout-prevention grant to award $10,000 grants to the first 57 school districts that raise their dropout age. With the additional $350,000 from Beshear, 92 school districts will receive the grants.
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said the department still hopes to find an additional $40,000 to help reach the 96-district threshold.
Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said the $350,000 comes from planning funds appropriated to the governor in the state budget.
“The governor’s planning fund … is used for projects that are of long-term benefit to the state,” Richardson said. “The money is not previously ‘earmarked’ for anything; it is directed at the governor’s discretion.”
In past years, money from the fund has been used to pay for task forces on tax reform and education, Richardson said.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, has questioned how the Department of Education and Beshear were able to find money for the grant program but not for other education needs, such as new textbooks.
“I find it disturbing the commissioner of the Department of Education is offering more than $500,000 in public education funds to advance this agenda while tens of thousands of children in Kentucky are desperately in need of textbooks,” Hoover wrote to the governor in April after the $570,000 was announced.
Beshear has defended the use of incentive money as a wise investment. He said the $10,000 grants can be used to determine how much it will cost each school district to improve alternative programs and career training for kids who would otherwise dropout.
“If the high school dropouts of 2009 had graduated, Kentucky’s economy would have an additional $4.2 billion in wages over those students’ lifetimes,” Beshear said in a news release announcing the additional money for the grant program.
The Fayette County School Board gave first reading Monday to a resolution raising the dropout age. It is expected to be finalized in July.