FRANKFORT — All 173 public school districts in Kentucky have approved raising their dropout age from 16 to 18.
Gov. Steve Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear and state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, in a news conference Thursday in the Capitol, praised all local boards of education for changing a policy that had been in effect since 1934.
A total of 166 school districts will implement the change in the 2015-16 school year. Newport Independent will come on board in 2016-17 and the final six districts — Ashland Independent, Caldwell County, Hickman County, Laurel County, Letcher County and Rockcastle County — will make the change in 2017-18.
The state legislature in 2013 approved Senate Bill 97, known as the "Graduate Kentucky" bill, to allow each school district to adopt a policy to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18.
"The time when a student could drop out of high school and find a dependable, good-paying job is long gone," Beshear said. "It only makes sense that if we want students to be successful after graduation from high school, they need to stay in school long enough to gain the skills and knowledge they will need for college, career and to become a productive resident of our state."
Beshear gave much credit for the new law to its "chief lobbyist," his wife, a former schoolteacher.
"We have worked with legislators and education leaders for more than seven years to promote the passage of the 'Graduate Kentucky' bill and are thrilled that statewide implementation of this long-overdue policy finally is at hand," Jane Beshear said.
Holliday said the governor had to make phone calls to get three districts on board.
Holliday called the new law "the right thing for Kentucky students," but he warned that "for the true impact to be felt, we can not simply warehouse these students in classrooms until they turn 18."
The state provided each district with a $10,000 grant to plan for implementation of the higher dropout age.
Beshear said it also was a good economic move.
Economists predict that if the high school dropouts of 2009 had graduated, the Kentucky economy would have realized an additional $4.2 billion in wages over those students' lifetimes, he said.
Research also shows, Beshear said, that high school graduates live longer; are less likely to be teen parents; are more likely to raise healthier, better educated children; and are less likely to commit crimes, rely on government health care and use other public services.
Kentucky's higher compulsory school attendance age is expected to help drive up the state's graduation rate.
The National Center for Education Statistics said that in the 2012-13 school year, Kentucky had the fourth highest graduation rate in the country at 86 percent. The most recent data, from the 2013-14 school year, showed Kentucky's graduation rate improved to 87.5 percent, Beshear said.
In recent years, the state also has increased the college-career readiness rate of its students, which now stands at 62.4 percent, up from 34 percent in 2010.