FRANKFORT — Students wouldn't be permitted to drop out of high school until they're legally adults under a proposal that Gov. Steve Beshear hopes to get approved by the Legislature after lawmakers convene next week.
The second-term Democrat, who has been pushing for years to gradually raise the dropout age from 16 to 18, said he's hopeful this will be the year it gets done.
"It sends a great message and a very essential message to our parents, our students and our school systems that kids need to finish high school to have any kind of opportunity to land a good job and to be able to support a family in the future," he told The Associated Press in an interview at his Capitol office on Wednesday.
The idea is to change a generations-old law that allows minors to drop out of school. The dropout age would be raised incrementally over a period of years to 17 and then to 18, giving both students and school districts time to adjust to the change.
The Democratic-controlled House favors such a measure, but Republicans who hold the majority in the Senate have refused to go along. They contend that classrooms would be disrupted by students who don't want to be in school, and that it sends an unfunded mandate to local school districts that would have to beef up alternative education programs for such students.
"Neither one of those ideas is accurate," Beshear said. "I think it's become more apparent that the school districts have the tools necessary to handle this population."
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday supports Beshear's proposal, saying it could help curb the dropout problem in a state where some 6,000 students quit school before graduating last year.
Proponents say changing the law has societal benefits because dropouts are more likely to go to prison or rely on welfare programs. They say those who get jobs are likely to make more than $300,000 less over their lifetimes than high school graduates.
"What we have found is that most of these children are not dropping out because they can't do the work," Beshear said. "They're dropping out because they're not interested. They don't see the value of finishing their high school education. And it behooves us to get those children into a career pathway that interests them and gets them excited about finishing school."