JCPS moves fast to raise dropout age to 18 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS plans to move fast to raise dropout age

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Michael Lamar Michael Lamar

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- You have to be 18 to buy cigarettes or lottery tickets and students may soon have to wait until they're 18 years old before being allowed to drop out of school.

On Monday, the Kentucky Senate voted 33-5 for final passage of a bill that would raise the state's dropout age. That vote came on the heels of 88-10 House vote.

Raising the dropout age has been a priority for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who has been pushing legislation since he took office in 2007.

It was a compromise arranged by Republican Sen. David Givens of Greensburg that lead to passage of the proposal after years of debate.

Givens resolved the issue by allowing school districts to choose whether to increase the dropout age. After 55% of school districts sign on, it would be required statewide. Lagging districts would have four years to comply.

On Tuesday we learned why JCPS plans to be among the first in the state to raise the dropout age.

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens says she will take a recommendation to the Board of Education in two weeks on how to implement raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 in Jefferson County Public Schools.

"We have to do everything we can to get students across the finish line," Hargens said. "We can't do the same thing that didn't work the first time, so we really know that we have to reach out and engage students and make learning relevant -- but this gives us more time to do it."

"It really means using different opportunities for them to learn," she added.

More opportunities like the kind found at Jefferson County High School, one of the alternative programs in JCPS. Its four campuses support about 300 students on the road to credit recovery with self-paced and online curriculum.

After years of debate, the bill that just cleared the general assembly essentially makes it a local choice.

Michael Lamar dropped out of school, but is getting back on track.

"I had things going on in my family life that I was bringing out in my school work," said Lamar. "So I didn't really care about school at the time."

Lamar ended up coming back to school as a fifth year senior, toying with the idea of quitting school.

JCPS Board Member Linda Duncan thinks raising the dropout age to 18 is a good idea.

"If this changes the minds of some 16-year-olds, then I think that's worth what we're doing," Duncan said.

But Duncan doesn't believe changing the law will solve the problem.

"Absolutely not," Duncan said.

She says students who do not want to go to school simply won't, and new laws or not, they can still fail.

"I think until the parent understands that it's the parents' responsibility to make sure that child finishes school as prepared as possible to deal with this world I think we're still going to have a big challenge there."

As for Lamar, he's back on track -- only two credits away from graduating.

"I feel like it will be a big accomplishment for me to start something and finish it," Lamar said.

After 55 percent of school districts sign on, it would become a statewide requirement. Holdouts would then have four years to comply. Gov. Beshear plans to sign the bill.

The dropout rate at JCPS is currently under 4 percent.

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