FRANKFORT — A proposal that would allow school districts the option of allowing refugee children to attend high school after their 21st birthdays passed the House on Monday.
The House voted 84-8 to pass House Bill 183, but the bill prompted a lot of debate about allowing younger adults to stay in high school.
Rep. Jody Richards, sponsor of House Bill 183, said his hometown, Bowling Green, has a thriving refugee community. The area school district asked Richards to sponsor the bill to allow refugee children to continue to attend high school after their 21st birthdays. Many refugee children spend years in settlement camps in other countries and are behind in school when they come to the United States. Catching up can take longer than current law allows, Richards said.
Many are just shy of graduation when they have to quit because of a state law that says children cannot attend school after turning 21, Richards said. The children are granted refugee status by the federal government. Local school districts would ensure that those benefiting were refugees.
But some members of the House expressed reservations about allowing older students to continue to attend school with teenagers.
"Do you want your son or daughter in the same classroom as a 25-year-old immigrant that we know nothing about?" asked Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville. Waide was one of the eight House members who voted against the measure.
Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said that the fear that many expressed Monday was unfounded. Other adults in their early 20s — including athletic coaches and even teachers — work at high schools. Yet there was no "paranoia" or "fear" about those people, he said.
House Bill 183 heads to the Senate.
Also Monday, the House passed House Bill 401, which would establish a state false claims act. The measure would make it easier for the state to go after contractors who commit fraud against the state. House Bill 401 was passed unanimously. In the Senate, a measure that would require people to prove that they are American citizens before receiving public benefits, such as Medicaid, was passed 37-1. Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, was the only senator to vote against SB 118. The bill now goes to the full House.