First lady presses again to raise Ky. dropout age

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - First lady Jane Beshear complained Tuesday that she has been snubbed by the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, who is refusing to allow her to make a case for raising the minimum dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18.

An impatient Beshear said she had sent a letter four days ago to
Sen. Ken Winters asking for an opportunity to explain her dropout
proposal. She has heard nothing in response. Winters said he had
just received the letter and hasn't had time to respond.

Lawmakers have been meeting in special legislative session for
more than a week primarily to balance the Medicaid budget to head
off potential 35 percent cuts in reimbursement rates to doctors and
others who care for the needy in Kentucky. Gov. Steve Beshear added
the dropout issue to the agenda.

Winters said Tuesday the dropout measure is widely unpopular
among Senate Republicans who see it as an unfunded mandate that
carries a variety of costs for local school districts, including
expanded alternative education programs. Those costs, Winters said,
could reach $100 million.

"I certainly had no intention of snubbing the first lady, but
was waiting to see if there was any movement in our chamber to do
that," Winters said. "It would seem to me that the sentiment in
the Senate chamber this time is probably more negative now than
last year."

In the letter, Beshear asked to appear before the education
committee. She said a similar request during the last legislative
session went ignored.

Senate Democrats interceded for her on Tuesday in a letter of
their own, requesting that Winters allow the first lady to make her
case for raising the dropout age.

The House passed the bill last week, despite objections from
opponents who worry that the move will lead to disruptions in

The bill would change a generations-old law allowing minors to
drop out of school. The legislation would raise the dropout age to
17 in 2015 and to 18 in 2016, giving both students and school
districts time to prepare for the change. Some 6,000 teens dropped
out in Kentucky during the last school year.

Jane Beshear has made the issue a priority and has been pressing
the legislation for the past two years. It has cleared the
Democratic-controlled House each time only to die in the
Republican-controlled Senate.

Winters said the measure sends an unfunded mandate to local
school districts that would have to beef up alternative education
programs for teens who are unable to do regular classroom work.
Winters said the state's school districts cumulatively might have
to spend as much as $100 million a year to accommodate the teens
who would be forced to stay in school.

Beshear said he included the dropout measure in the special
session in hopes it would receive more public attention, thereby
forcing Senate Republicans to act.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday joined Tuesday in
the call for lawmakers to pass the bill, which, he said, could help
curb the dropout problem.

"If we don't do something, we're going to lose 15,000 children
over the next five years," Holliday said.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said
those dropouts will be more likely to rely on government welfare
programs or go to prison. For those who get jobs, Greer said, they
would make some $327,000 less over their lifetimes than high school graduates.

Jane Beshear told Democratic senators Tuesday morning that
raising the dropout age gradually will allow school districts
plenty of time to prepare for the additional students who would
have otherwise dropped out.

"It's time and it's past time to pass this bill," she said.
The legislation is House Bill 2.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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