The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow individual school districts to raise their dropout age to 18 – a concept local superintendents say has merit, although they say all factors, such as funding needs, need to be taken into account.
Two versions of dropout-age legislation are under consideration by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 109 does not go as far as House Bill 216, which was passed in January and would raise the dropout age to 18 across the state.
Currently, students in Kentucky can drop out of school at age 16 with a parent’s permission.
The Kentucky Department of Education has been involved in trying to raise the dropout age for several years, according to Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the department.
“We know that students who decide to drop out at 16 are too young to make that decision,” Gross said.
Dropping out of school limits job prospects and earning potential, she said. It’s important that students understand the benefits of staying in school.
“Raising the age is not the only answer, but it’s a good first step,” Gross said.
The Department of Education prefers the House bill that would raise the dropout age to 18 statewide, rather than the Senate version, which includes the local option.
Critics of the dropout legislation argue that any such law must include the promise of increased funding for such things as alternative educational programs for students who simply don’t want to be in school past age 16.
Tim Murley, superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, said he supports raising the dropout age as long as the state gives districts the funding to do so. “Anything else they throw at us without funding will hurt us,” Murley said.
Ultimately, though, it’s about making sure students want to be in school, he said. “Just raising it to raise it won’t do much,” he said. “Students have to want to stay in school.”
Joe Tinius, superintendent of Bowling Green Independent Schools, said he’s never pleased when any student drops out, but there are a lot of pieces to the dropout-age issue.
Since a student needs parental permission to drop out before age 18, it’s essentially a decision parents are making, Tinius said.
He’s concerned that if the dropout-age decision is left to each district, families could just move to another district if they wanted their kids to drop out.
In addition, raising the dropout age would bring about more funding needs, Tinius said.
“It can’t be passed without additional money,” he said. “That needs to be realized.”
Some students need help being motivated to stay in school, Tinius said.
“They may be there physically, but are they there emotionally?” he said.