FRANKFORT—A bill that would raise the school dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18 passed the House Education Committee Tuesday. House Bill 224, sponsored by House Banking and Insurance Chair Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, and Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, would raise the dropout age gradually by increasing the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 on July 1, 2017 and from age 17 to 18 on July 1, 2018. Similar legislation has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly for over a decade but has never become law.
“We need to send a message to all parents in the state that education is important and graduation is important. I think it’s a change of culture that this bill will lead to,” House Education Committee Chair Carl Rollins, D-Midway, said in a Legislative Research Commission news release.
Kentucky’s current dropout age of 16 was set in 1920 when “education wasn’t as highly regarded as it is today,” Greer said. He added that a high school diploma is required to join the U.S. military and to find work in most jobs. But some lawmakers on the committee, including Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, expressed concern with the bill, saying only five states that have raised their dropout age have had “any appreciable increase” in graduation rates, and that the bill will cost money.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday said a drop in kindergarten enrollment in the next few years resulting from changes to the kindergarten starting age made by the 2012 General Assembly will protect guaranteed base funding, or SEEK funds, for high schoolers who stay in class until age 18. And while he agreed that raising the dropout age alone won’t increase graduation rates, he said it is part of a “comprehensive approach” that will impact those rates.
HB 224 now goes to the House for further consideration.