Dropout age could increase from 16 to 18

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By Bryan Marshall

Legislation headed to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature could make it easier to make sure students stay in school.
School districts in Kentucky will be allowed to raise the minimum dropout age for their students under Senate Bill 97, which cleared the General Assembly on March 11.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, will allow local school districts across the state to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 for their students beginning in the 2015 school year.
Currently, Kentucky students may drop out of high school at the age of 16.
The bill was approved 33-5 by the Senate and now goes to the governor for his consideration.
The Senate agreed to a change to the bill made by the House of Representatives to require the increased compulsory attendance age to become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts have adopted the change.
“Philosophically, every educator in the Commonwealth is for graduating 100 percent of the students college and career ready,” said Grant County Schools Superintendent Ron Livingood. “However, raising the dropout age does not make this magically happen. It is difficult to motivate 16-18-year-old kids who have become disengaged with school and life in general. Finding programs and resources to engage these kids in a creative innovative way takes resources.”
Williamstown Independent Superintendent Sally Skinner agrees.
“We want all our students to graduate college and career ready,” she said. “However, the reality is there are students within the age range of 16-18 who enroll from within Kentucky or from out of state, who are terribly short of credits due to a variety of reasons. We are currently using credit recovery software, providing after school services, counseling, outside resources and anything else we can use to make progress towards graduation requirements.”
Prior to raising the dropout age, the bill will require schools to have programs and resources in place for students at-risk for not completing their high school education.  
School districts would also be required to apply to and receive approval from the Kentucky Department of Education.
Skinner said she was impressed that the legislation provided flexibility for school boards allowing them the time they may need to get appropriate programs in place.
“Unfortunately, additional funding was not attached to this legislation so in essence it is another unfunded mandate,” she said.
At this point, Livingood said he does not see Grant County Schools applying to raise the dropout age without additional resources to meet the needs of the students and families involved.
“Grant County will have less in resources financially next year than this year,” he said. “We are looking at reductions in some areas. Systemically, we are creatively and aggressively using the Career and Technical Center to keep kids engaged with school. We will continue to build partnerships with the community and parents to keep kids engaged in school.”
Skinner said Williamstown will eventually apply to increase the dropout age, but will wait to further research new legislation that deals with a waiver process for districts who might be looking into new ways to document what a student knows.  
“Putting it off will give us the time we need to try and locate additional resources necessary to provide the kinds of intensive personalized interventions necessary for success with older at-risk students,” she said.
Meeting the letter of the law would simply force disengaged kids to stay in a building two more years, said Livingood.
He added that the spirit of the law is to work early in the lives of kids and provide hope and resources to establish individualized goals.
“I guess I am concerned about the mindset in Frankfort of mandate driven, top-down decision making,” Livingood said. “Our local board and most Kentucky boards of education want to graduate all of the students successfully. If it could be done by a legislative decision, I would support it 100 percent. However, something this important takes a committed effort on the part of every citizen and every community group. Our society as a whole in the Commonwealth should tackle this problem together. We presently are getting increased mandates and less resources to make the mandates come into fruition.”