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School boards to consider raising dropout age

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Frankfort Independent Schools is poised to become among the first districts in the state to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18 and Franklin County may not be far behind.

Superintendent Rich Crowe will recommend the Frankfort Independent Board of Education approve the change at its next meeting, after news Monday that the Legislature approved a bill that makes way for the change statewide.

Board member Paul Looney said the members havent discussed the bill yet, but he doesnt foresee much dissent although they will attempt to consider all possible ramifications.

Franklin County Public Schools Superintendent Chrissy Jones said no recommendation or decision would be made until the board discusses the issue at an upcoming meeting.

The Senate voted 33-5 for Senate Bill 97 after the act passed the House on a vote of 88-10. The measure is now headed to Gov. Steve Beshears desk, where he is expected to sign it without hesitation.

Statewide in 2010-2011 the most recent year with data available public schools reported a dropout rate of 1.6 percent, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

Franklin Countys dropout rate was half that at 0.8 percent, but Frankfort Independents was higher at 2.5 percent.

Today is a very good day for our schools, for our students and for the future workforce of our commonwealth, Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear said in a press release.

Under the bill, increasing the dropout age will be voluntary for districts at first. If 55 percent of school districts opt to keep students in school until theyre 18, the policy would become mandatory four years later.

Franklin County High School Principal Buddy Sampson said the threshold is the best part of the bill.

They have given the autonomy and the authority to local school districts, for the most part, Sampson said.

By putting the ball in their courts, theyre making a wise decision. People closest to the problems seem to know best.

But Crowe said Frankfort schools dont need to wait especially considering there is a program, Capital City Prep, already in place to assist students who have demonstrated a need for a nontraditional setting.

Although Franklin County has a similar program at The Academy, Sampson said he isnt sure thats relevant in the discussion of the dropout age. He also doesnt buy into the debate surrounding the bill that argues students who want to drop out are only a distraction to more dedicated learners.

Im not one that believes that the disproportionate number that tend to be the ones with behavioral issues are the ones that would drop out, he said. The students just need intensified and focused support.

Franklin County Board of Education Chairwoman Michelle New also believes some students who would drop out before 18 need to be more engaged.

We want them to be ready and prepared for life and for the next step, and we know we can do that if we keep them in school and keep them engaged, New said.

Im in support of the bill, but there will be many avenues and many discussions. Well have to have programs for the schools to keep them going and keep them engaged.

Keeping students engaged could increase the number of students who earn a diploma, Crowe said.

In 2011, graduation rates stood at 83.3 percent for Frankfort schools and 77.9 percent in Franklin County schools. Statewide, the graduation rate was 77.8 percent.

There are a lot of kids who are well on their way to graduating who drop out at 16 or 17 years of age, Crowe said.

Thats two more years you have to hook a kid and figure out a way to get them to buy into education, to buy into their future.

New isnt sure merely raising the age will increase the graduation rate.

Many of the students who drop out drop out for a reason, she said. Theyre not highly engaged or theyre having issues. Maybe theyre behind or theyre not connecting with the school in that effect.

But she said she still believes increasing the dropout age is the right thing to do and Jones agreed.

I dont believe in giving kids an out, Jones said.

Jones said she and New would likely discuss the bill at a working board meeting in April or May. Both boards will wait until the Kentucky School Board Association distributes a sample policy, and both districts will consider funding.

Looney said the impact on Frankfort Independent would be minimal. But unless the state increases funding which is based on attendance schools with few dropouts would be unfairly affected compared to schools with a higher number.

Regardless of when a policy is established, Crowe said he is excited to have the law behind his effort to keep students in school.

Theyre not throwaway kids, he said.

Theyll probably be around us for another 60 or 70 years. Are they going to be strong, contributing members of society? They can be if we keep them in school until theyre 18.