FRANKFORT — The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would let each school district decide whether to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18.
Under Senate Bill 109, school boards could raise the dropout age if the local superintendent recommended the action and the state Department of Education gave its approval.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger, said he favors local control instead of Gov. Steve Beshear's proposal to raise the dropout age statewide, beginning in 2017.
That measure, House Bill 216, has been approved by a House committee and is awaiting action in the full House.
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Beshear, a Democrat, said he would work with the House and Senate on the dropout issue. Asked whether he could support Westwood's bill, Beshear said, "There's a lot of details we have to work on.
"I'm just glad to see some momentum coming out of the Senate. That is very encouraging."
Westwood said he did not think his bill would be more beneficial to wealthier school districts that would have the resources to keep students in school longer.
"It would give local control to any district, whether it is wealthy or not," he said, noting that school districts could use federal or state funds to accommodate keeping students longer.
Westwood said he wanted to see fewer high school dropouts. The state Department of Education says about 6,600 students drop out of school each year in Kentucky.
Westwood said Beshear's push for a mandatory dropout age of 18 is "symbolic," while Westwood's bill "starts to meet students' needs" by making sure programs are in place to keep students longer.
He noted that the Senate Education Committee on Thursday unanimously approved his Senate Bill 38, which requires the state Department of Education to develop new courses for technical education. He said it was a companion bill to his compulsory attendance measure.
The current policy of allowing a student to drop out of school at age 16 with parents' permission has been in effect in Kentucky since 1920.
Proponents say raising the dropout age would help the state attract businesses, which look at education-attainment figures when scouting for new places to locate.