FRANKFORT — For the third time in two years, the House Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday to raise Kentucky's school dropout age from 16 to 18.
The House is expected to approve the bill Wednesday. But the bill's sponsor said he doesn't know whether the Senate will let it die again, as it did in 2010 and during the regular 2011 legislative session that ended last week.
Gov. Steve Beshear put the dropout bill on the agenda for the special legislative session that began Monday, but Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said earlier this week there is no sentiment in the Senate to increase the dropout age.
"I don't know what they'll do," said Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said of the Senate. "It helps that it's one of just two bills in the special session. That puts more emphasis on it. We have so many bills during the regular sessions, but this time they can spend the time to really break down the bill and study it."
House Bill 2 would raise the dropout age to 17 in July 2015 and 18 in July 2016. It also would require the state Department of Education and local school districts to collect information on alternative education programs and the progress of students placed in them, with the ultimate goal of improving the programs.
Several lawmakers on the House Education Committee objected to the bill. They called it "an unfunded mandate" for schools that would have to find money necessary to house unruly — and potentially violent — students for two more years, until they legally could quit at age 18.
But Greer and House Speaker Greg Stumbo said taxpayers lose tens of millions of dollars a year in costs associated with school dropouts, including higher rates of unemployment, dependence on public assistance programs and incarceration.
"Children dropping out of school pose a tremendous cost to society," Greer told the committee.
State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday choked up with emotion as he told about an episode earlier in his career when he "failed" as a high school principal.
Holliday said he grew so frustrated with a student disrupting the school that he told the youth to "get out." The youth walked out, never to return. Two years later, the young man was charged with murder, Holliday said.
"My attitude needed adjusting," Holliday said. "And we have a lot of that in Kentucky."