FRANKFORT — Local school districts would have the option of keeping students in school until age 18 through 2016, when the higher dropout age would become mandatory statewide under a bill a state House panel approved Tuesday.
House Education chairman Carl Rollins, D-Midway, said the measure was a compromise between a House bill that would raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 and a Senate bill that would give schools the option of raising the age.
Rollins' committee substitute for Senate Bill 109 cleared the committee even though 10 members did not vote. The only "no" vote was cast by Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, who said he preferred the original Senate bill that gave school districts the option of raising the dropout age.
The bill now goes to the full House.
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, when Kentucky was a farming community. Although state legislators have been discussing raising the dropout age since 1997, a bill has never been approved by both chambers.
The Democratic House has passed bills requiring all districts to increase the dropout age to 18 for the past three years. The Republican-controlled Senate has never passed a mandatory school attendance bill.
Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger, sponsor of SB 109, told the House Education Committee that multiple studies have shown that increasing the dropout age has not translated into increased graduation rates.
He said it's wrong to require students to stay in school without having alternative programs for them. Westwood has pushed a bill that would expand alternative education and technical programs in Kentucky.
"Just mandating that a student stay in school is a half-solution," he said.
The state Department of Education says about 6,600 students drop out of school each year in Kentucky.