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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Saying, "The days of dropping out of high school and expecting a dependable, well-paying job are long gone," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on Tuesday called for Kentucky's school districts to adopt a new dropout age of 18.
First Lady Jane Beshear and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday joined the governor in that call. The policy is voluntary unless 55 percent of the state's school districts adopt it -- then the rest of the state must also raise the dropout age to 18 within four years.
"If the high school dropouts of 2009 had graduated, Kentucky's economy would have an additional $4.2 billion in wages over those students' lifetimes," Gov. Beshear said in a news release.
"Our goal is to graduate every student in Kentucky ready for college and career. We can't do that if they're not in school," said Commissioner Holliday.
Starting June 25, the first day school districts can vote to adopt the change, the state will also begin pushing the "Blitz to 96" initiative. If 96 school Kentucky school districts raise the dropout age, that will reach the 55 percent threshold for it to be adopted statewide.
The state's Department of Education is giving $10,000 planning in grants to school districts that adopt the new policy in the 2013-14 school year, so they can put it in place during the 2015-16 school year.
The state says research shows that high school graduates live longer, are less likely to become parents while still in their teens, and are more likely to raise healthy, well-educated children. That research also shows they are less likely to commit crimes or rely on government healthcare or other public services.
Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens has said JCPS should raise the dropout age. Back in March, she said, "We have to do everything we can to get students across the finish line. 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."
But praise for the idea of raising the dropout age is not universal. Also in March, JCPS Board Member Linda Duncan said raising the dropout age to 18 is a good idea, and that she thought it was worth doing if it changed the minds of some 16-year-olds. But she said she didn't believe changing the law would solve the problem: "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."
This past January, Jefferson Co. High School Principal Jerry Keepers told WDRB News, "I think it's going to have some adverse effects on some of the schools." Those effects include taking teachers' time and attention in favor of students who don't want to learn. There are also fears that forcing students to stay in school will drive down state test scores.