FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky students would have to remain in
school until they turn 18 under legislation that received initial
legislative approval on Tuesday.
The House Education Committee passed a bill that would change a generations-old law allowing 16-year-olds to drop out of school.
The legislation would raise the dropout age incrementally to 18.
"This is a no-brainer," said state Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, a retired teacher. "You can't go wrong by voting
for this bill."
Supporters believe allowing teens to dropout at 16 is a relic of
past generations - one that needs to be tossed aside because most
jobs now require at last a high school diploma.
A similar bill was approved in the House but died in the Senate
in a legislative session that ended last week. Gov. Steve Beshear
added the issue to the agenda for a special session that began on
Critics fear that teens required to stay in school against their
wills would be disruptive in classrooms.
A line of supporters, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo and
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, pointed to the social and
economic costs of allowing teenagers to quit school early.
Dropouts, they said, are more likely to rely on public assistance
or wind up in prison.
The legislation would increase the minimum age for quitting
school to 17 in 2015 and 18 in 2016 in a state where about 6,000
students dropped out in 2009.
Similar measures passed the House in the last two years, but
died each time in the Senate.
The sponsor of the legislation, state Rep. Jeff Greer,
D-Brandenburg, said phasing in the higher dropout age would give
school districts ample time to develop effective alternative
education programs for disruptive teens.
"I think, as a state, we cannot afford not to make these
changes," Greer said.
State Rep. Carl Rollins II, D-Midway, chairman of the Education
Committee, is one of the bill's most ardent supporters.
"This bill is important because it raises expectations for our
children," he said. "Sixteen-year-olds are not mature enough to
make a decision that's this important to their life. And we cannot
afford to dispose of any more children."
The legislation is House Bill 2.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)