FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky would join 15 other states that bar students from dropping out of school before they’re legally adults under a measure passed by the Legislature Monday.
The Senate voted 33-5 for final passage of the legislation that proponents say will prevent some 6,000 Kentucky teens from quitting school early each year.
Raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 has been a priority for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who has been pushing lawmakers to take action since he took office in 2007.
By passing the bill, Beshear said lawmakers “voted to stop allowing these students to jeopardize their future, and to stop costing Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars in jails and social services.”
“This bill will help to break the cycle of poverty, close the revolving door of prison and improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians,” the governor said.
Beshear’s original proposal was to change the state’s generations-old dropout law incrementally, first to 17 and later to 18, allowing students and school districts time to adjust to the change.
Beshear maintained that raising the quitting age would have societal benefits because dropouts often are costly to state government because they’re more prone to rely on welfare programs or go to prison. And he has cited studies that showed dropouts who get jobs would make some $327,000 less over their lifetimes than high school graduates.
It was a compromise engineered by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, that led to passage of the proposal after years of heated debate. Givens took a competing proposal to allow individual school districts to choose whether to increase the dropout age to 18 and added a twist that made it acceptable to Beshear. That twist called for the dropout age to rise statewide after 55 percent of school districts sign on.
Lagging districts would have four years to comply.
“I view this as a tremendous victory for our state,” said Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, who had sponsored similar legislation in the House. “We’re sending a message to our young people that we have expectations for them.”
The bill wasn’t without detractors. Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, argued adamantly against the measure, warning colleagues that they would be forcing schools to deal with students who may be “violent offenders, beating up other students and beating up teachers.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 97.