Raising dropout age; Fayette superintendent right to lead way

Fayette superintendent right to lead the way

March 20, 2013 

Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton

Quick decisions by the Fayette County Public Schools and others to raise the dropout age to 18 will be good for schools, families and Kentucky's future.

The state set 16 as the cut-off for compulsory school attendance in 1920. Almost 100 years later, the job market has all but blackballed anyone who lacks a high school degree and some form of specialized training or higher education.

Gov. Steve Beshear on Monday signed a law allowing districts to voluntarily raise the compulsory attendance age to 18.

When 55 percent of the 174 districts raise the dropout age, the remaining districts will have four years to make the change.

The new law is watered down from what Beshear and House Democrats originally sought. But compromise enabled the bill to finally make it through the Republican Senate this session.

Of Fayette County's legislators, only Rep. Stan Cave, R-Lexington, voted against the new law.

Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton wisely said he will ask the Fayette school board to raise the dropout age as soon as possible. Taylor County's board has already voted to do so, and Jefferson County may follow suit next week.

Knowing they're losing the release valve of 16-year-old dropouts, educators will redouble their efforts to keep students engaged, by meeting their needs early so they can succeed later and by creating more routes to graduation.

As Fayette County's Shelton said, "Along with raising the dropout age to 18, we have to provide the right opportunities for kids and support their needs."

Families and students will quickly get the message and raise their expectations and plan accordingly.

As more schools strive to better serve more students, the legislature will feel the pressure to improve funding. Investing in early childhood education would be one of the smartest things Kentucky could do to increase success in schools.

At least 32 other states and the District of Columbia have raised their dropout age to 17 or 18.

Kentucky's new law allows school districts to drive progress from the grassroots up. They should seize this opportunity to show they're committed to teaching all students.

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