(AP) — Kentucky teenagers would no longer be able to drop out of high school at 16 under a bill that passed a House committee on Tuesday.
State Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said the measure would save money, offsetting the costs of keeping possible dropouts in school. He said more Kentuckians with high school diplomas will lessen the number of people on public assistance and in prison.
"It's kind of hard for me to look at this as 'What's it going to cost us?' I think it's 'What's it going to save us? What's it going to do for the good of our commonwealth?'" said Greer, who co-sponsored the bill with state Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville.
The House Education Committee approved the measure 24-2. It now goes to the full House for consideration.
The idea of the bill, which has failed for years once it got to the Republican-controlled Senate, is to change a generations-old law that allows minors to drop out of school with parental permission.
Under the proposal, the dropout age would be raised incrementally over several years to 17 and then to 18, giving both students and school districts time to adjust to the change.
The Democratic-controlled House has favored such a measure, but Senate Republicans have contended classrooms would be disrupted by students who don't want to be in school, sending an unfunded mandate to local school districts that would have to beef up alternative education programs for such students.
State Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said keeping students, particularly the more disruptive ones, in school longer doesn't guarantee more high school graduates.
"Just making them sit in alternative school watching television does not a high school graduate make," he said shortly before voting against the bill.
He added that high school teachers in his district opposed the bill.
"These high school teachers are dealing with these students who end up disrupting class and beating up teachers, beating up other students so much so that we have to have the police involved," he said. "I would be very interested if (the Kentucky Department of Education) would follow these students, these students that attempt to leave the school system, and then follow them and see what happens to them after they sit in the class 'til they're 18."
The bill calls for the dropout age to be raised to 17 in 2017 and to 18 the following year.
Gov. Steve Beshear has repeatedly said passing the legislation could help curb the dropout problem in a state where some 6,000 students quit school each year. His wife, Jane Beshear, has made increasing the dropout age one of her key issues as first lady.
Proponents say dropouts are likely to make $300,000 less over their lifetimes than high school graduates.