Kentucky debated changing the dropout age for years. Two years ago, the legislature finally raised the mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 18, a reform we strongly support and one that was phased in to give schools and students time to prepare.
And yet, despite efforts to avoid it, some 16- and 17-year-old dropouts got caught in limbo when the new law took effect in most districts July 1.
The Kentucky Department of Education is leaving it to local officials to decide whether to treat GED recipients and members of the military who are younger than 18 as truants. (Helpful hint: Don't.)
Local officials also should find ways to accommodate young people such as Alexis Barnett, 17, of Lexington, who dropped out to have a baby and is close to earning a GED. Forcing her back into high school would waste public resources and her time. She would drop out as soon as she turns 18 in a few months and can finish taking the equivalency exam.
In Fayette County, 54 dropouts ages 16 or 17 have been working toward a GED in adult education this year, including some who scrambled to finish the testing before the July 1 deadline.
Fourteen percent of Kentucky's 7,083 GED graduates were younger than 18 in 2013-14 — that's almost a thousand 16- and 17-year-olds.
Now 16- and 17-year-olds no longer may enroll in adult education in Kentucky to prepare for the GED. And those sitting for the GED must be 18, another change that was phased in over recent years and took effect July 1.
Some lawmakers already want to make clarifications in the law next year. There's a question about whether the legislature even meant for it to apply retroactively.
But it should not take an act of the legislature to accommodate young dropouts pursuing GEDs.
Students who finish high school are better prepared for college and careers than those who earn GEDs. That's one of the reasons for raising the dropout age.
Schools should have been adapting and creating programs to identify and engage students who are at risk of dropping out, including ways to accelerate their academic recoveries and graduations.
Still, it's probably unrealistic to dump youngsters who are years away from earning enough credits for a traditional diploma back into high school.
No one would object — indeed there would be applause — if education bureaucracies can find paths out of limbo for young Kentuckians who are trying to rebound from dropping out by pursuing GEDs.