Raise dropout age for state's future

About 6,000 young Kentuckians drop out of school each year. On average, they will earn $7,000 to $10,000 less each year than they would have earned if they had a high school diploma.

Dropouts are more likely to need public assistance sometime during their lives. They're more likely to commit crimes that result in prison time.

But legislation that would have raised Kentucky's dropout age to 18 died in the state Senate last year, partly due to concerns about the cost of programs designed to keep high-risk students in school.

Such short-term costs pale in comparison to the long-term costs of continuing a 90-year-old policy of allowing our youth to drop out at age 16.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, those 6,000 dropouts a year add up to about 16,000 young Kentuckians who fail to graduate within a given class year.

Over the course of their lifetimes, according to the alliance, those 16,000 dropouts will lose $4.2 billion in earnings and will cost the state about $162 million for health care.

Mull those numbers over for a few minutes, and then try to convince yourself Kentucky can't afford to keep at-risk students in school a couple of more years.

The reality is Kentucky can't afford to continue letting them drop out of school at 16 — not in a 21st-century economy with jobs that place more value on brain than brawn.

State Rep. Jeff Greer, the Brandenburg Democrat who sponsored the bill last year, has introduced a similar measure in the current General Assembly session.

House Bill 225 would raise the dropout age to 17 for the 2015-16 school year and 18 in subsequent years. This gives school districts five years to prepare for full implementation of the measure.

With all five members of the House Democratic leadership signed on as co-sponsors, HB 225 almost certainly will clear that chamber with ease. (Last year, the House vote was 94-6.)

This year, the Republican-controlled Senate needs to mend its penny-wise, pound-foolish ways and make the future of Kentucky's youth brighter by raising the dropout age.