FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear defended a plan to give $10,000 grants to more than 50 school districts if they increase their dropout ages from 16 to 18 in coming months.
"I think it's money well spent," Beshear told reporters Monday during a news conference on an unrelated topic.
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, sent Beshear a letter last week questioning why the state would spend $570,000 on the plan when there are so many other needs in Kentucky schools.
"I find it disturbing the Commissioner of the Department of Education is offering more than $500,000 in public education funds to advance this agenda while tens of thousands of children in Kentucky are desperately in need of textbooks," Hoover said in his letter to the governor. "Ten years from now, it will not matter that we have raised the minimum age for high school dropouts if we continue down this path of spending money which without a doubt no member of the legislature or the public was told was available."
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Beshear said Monday that money for the grants comes from a $570,000 fund that is earmarked to help keep kids in school longer.
"The money comes from dropout-prevention monies that have been appropriated to the department, so it's exactly what the money should be spent on," Beshear said. "The money could not be used for textbooks anyway."
The Kentucky Board of Education approved the grant program last week. School districts can use the money for planning and other purposes.
Beshear has pushed to raise Kentucky's dropout age since taking office in 2007, but legislation that would make the change mandatory for all 174 school districts stalled for years in the Republican-controlled Senate.
This year, the General Assembly approved compromise legislation that would allow individual school districts to increase the dropout age in their districts. Once 55 percent of Kentucky school districts raise their dropout age to 18, the remaining school districts would have four years to implement the change.
Several school districts — including Fayette County and Jefferson County — have said they want to increase the dropout age this summer even though the law does not take effect until the 2015-2016 school year.
Ninety-five school districts must increase the dropout age to meet the 55 percent threshold that would trigger a mandatory increase statewide.