Bill Would Keep Kentuckians in School Until Age 18

Lexington, KY – By 2018, fewer than 10 percent of Kentucky employers will accept job applicants who lack a high school diploma.  This Georgetown University forecast from the study Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018 offers a clear warning to Kentucky policy makers, educators, employers, students, parents…anyone with a stake in the well-being of the Commonwealth’s economy: education is essential to well-being.

“In today’s world, you can’t get a job without at least a high school diploma. The Military will not accept you without a high school diploma,” said Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, a former teacher who is spearheading the latest effort to win the General Assembly’s approval to raise the state’s compulsory schooling age from 16 to 18. Kids who don’t graduate from high school “are the people that we find many times homeless. They absorb most of the social services. They’re most often less healthy. And often they end up in our prisons and jails,” she said in an interview with Business Lexington.

Many students who don’t graduate from high school find themselves on a difficult path in life that too often leads to poverty and little chance of meaningful employment, echoed Fayette County Schools Supt. Tom Shelton, a member of the First Lady Beshear’s “Graduate Kentucky” task force, the group that proposed the age change. “We cannot knowingly allow this for a teenager. We owe it to all children to give them the best chance of a fruitful and productive adult life, which begins with a high school diploma.”

Dropouts from the class of 2008, for example, will cost Kentucky almost $4.2 billion in lost wages over their lifetimes, according to the estimations of the Alliance for Excellent Education.

While previous attempts to reset the age at 18 have failed, a statewide survey now shows Kentucky parents overwhelmingly supportive with more than eight in ten (85 percent) responding to The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s Kentucky Parent Survey in favor. Among them, 77 percent indicated they “strongly” favor raising the dropout age to 18. Fewer than one in six parents (15 percent) said they opposed increasing Kentucky’s dropout age.

Legislation sponsored in the House by Democrat Rep. Jeff Greer and in the Senate by Republican Jimmy Higdon will be proposed in the 2013 General Assembly getting underway today in Frankfort. It is backed by the state Board of Education and has the endorsement of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who cited earlier education legislation as a driver. “Senate Bill 1 mandates us to ensure that all Kentucky’s public school students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college and the workplace. Allowing students to leave school at age 16 is contrary to that mandate.”

Many states that have raised the compulsory school attendance age to 18 continue to struggle with high dropout rates: Nevada, 58 percent; Louisiana, 43 percent; California, 37 percent, for example. “It’s because these laws get obeyed in the breach,” asserted Richard Innes, Education Analyst for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a guest on the January 28 edition of KET’s Kentucky Tonight. “It’s almost like prohibition in the 1930’s, everybody said ‘yeah, great idea pass the law’, and promptly disobeyed it in large numbers, and that’s what’s happening in these states.”

Noted Nancy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, simple comparisons between states do not take into account complex demographic factors that influence graduation rates, such as poverty, parental education levels and historic trends and comparisons with states that have similar demographics. “Such comparisons also do not consider what or if those states had comprehensive programs in place to support students and educators when they raised their dropout ages,” she added. “Kentucky has a comprehensive support system and strategies in place to support raising the dropout age that includes college/career readiness, alternative programs, innovation and career and technical education.”

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