FRANKFORT — A House panel approved a bill Tuesday that would raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18, beginning in 2017. House Bill 216 now goes to the full House, where it is likely to be approved.
However, the measure — pushed by first lady Jane Beshear — has an uncertain fate in the Republican-controlled Senate. A similar bill was approved by the Democratic-controlled House last year but was never heard by the Senate Education Committee.
Republicans in the Senate, where Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, has filed a similar bill to raise the dropout age, have expressed concerns about the cost of keeping teens in school who want to drop out and the lack of alternative programs for them.
The House bill requires students to attend school until at least age 17, beginning July 1, 2016, unless the student already has completed high school. Beginning July 1, 2017, students must complete high school or stay in school until at least 18.
Sponsors of the bill have said the current policy of allowing a student to drop out at age 16 has been in effect since 1920.
Proponents say raising the dropout age will help the state attract businesses, which look at education-attainment figures when scouting for new places to locate.
Jane Beshear, a former schoolteacher, has pushed the measure since 2010.
She told the House Education Committee that Kentucky needs an educated work force to attract companies that provide high-paying jobs. That requires workers to have at least a high school diploma, she said.