Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 13, 2013

Goal surpassed

$10,000 grants lead enough districts to raise dropout age

The Independent

ASHLAND — It’s official: The mad rush by Kentucky school boards to raise the age in which students can quit school from 16 to 18 their mandatory school attendance age is now irrelevant. Regardless of what the boards of individual school districts think about the higher dropout age, in four years all students in Kentucky public schools who have not graduated from high school must remain in school  until their 18th birthday.

After three years in which bills to raise the dropout age to 18 were approved by the Kentucky House of Representatives only to die in the Kentucky Senate without a vote, the 2013 General Assembly reached a compromise that essentially left it up to individual boards in the state’s 173 public school districts to decide whether to raise their drop out age to 18, something they had been barred by law from doing.

However, that law, which took effect June 25, also stipulatedthat the higher driout afe would be staewide if ocal school boards in districts representing 55 percent of the state’s public school students raised their dropout age to 18, the higher dropout age would become state law within four years.

It took only a little more than two weeks after the bill became law for enough school boards to raise their mandatory school attendance age to 18 for the law statewide. Of course, the $10,000 grants promised to school districts that raised their dropout age gave school boards an added incentive to do the sam. 

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday initially promised $10,000 grants to the first 57 districts to raise their dropout age, but Gov. Steve Beshear raised the number of districts eligible for grants to 96. That launched what Beshear and education officials dubbed the “Blitz to 96” — the number of districts needed to trigger the change statewide. The Russell Independent Board of Education was so eager to become one the districts to receive a $10,000 grant it initially sched uled a board meeting for midnight the day the new law took effect. So did other school boards until state officials said those early morning meetings were unnecessary. Nevertheless, 54 school districts enacted higher dropout rates on the day the law took effect. In addition to the Russell Independent board, school boards in Boyd, Elliott and Lawrence counties approved the higher dropout age on the first day. The boards in Greenup and Carter counties soon followed suit.

In fact, the Ashland and Fairview independent school boards were the only area boards to fail to qualify for a $10,000 grant.. The Ashland schoo board twice tabled proposals to raise the dropout age to 18. Now the higher dropout age will take effect without either Fairview or Ashland receiving extra funds.

Our hope is that would-be dropouts will use the extra two years they will be forced to attend school to do the work necessary to qualify for a legitimate high school diploma and not one that is just given for staying in school until they are 18. The worst thing that could happen is if students who do not want to be in school become so disruptive they hamper the ability of other students to learn.

It is essential that in the next four years school districts develop effective alternative education programs for students who don’t want to be in school.  It is just as important that school districts identify potential dropouts while they are still in grade school and develop programs to assure the two extra years they will be in school will be a learning experience and not an ordeal for teachers and good students.

Two more years of school will be of little value if students do not use the time to develop the skills and knowledge to succeed as adults.