Kentucky's Jefferson County Public Schools is the latest district to set its minimum dropout age at 18. Now that JCPS joins more than 80 districts across the state that have done the same, will it be long before 18 is the minimum drop out age for all of Kentucky?
According to Antoinette Konz of The Courier Journal, the district's school board voted unanimously this Monday to adopt the change. Starting in the 2015-16 academic year, students will be required to stay in school until graduation or until they turn 18, whichever comes first.
Previously, the drop out age in Jefferson County was 16. The change came about thanks to a new state law that allows districts to raise the drop-out age voluntarily. According to the law, however, if 55% of the state's districts adopt the change, the rest are mandated to do the same within 4 years.
Currently the state is about 16 districts shy.
Raising the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18 could affect thousands of Kentucky students who leave school early. According to state officials, more than 6,200 Kentucky students dropped out in 2010.
In Jefferson County, 1,166 students — 4.1 percent — dropped out of school during the 2011-12 academic year. Of that number, 530 were under age 18, district officials said.
JCPS board member Linda Duncan, who voted in support of the policy despite concerns, predicts that the district will need more staff to track down truant students and beef up alternative programs under the higher dropout limit.
Hoping to make the new dropout age uniform across Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear and state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday launched a campaign called "Blitz to 96" to encourage as many districts as possible to vote in the policy. The first 96 districts that agree to raise the dropout age will get a bit of a sweetener – $10,000 in individual planning grants that can be used to cover whatever expenses come from adopting the policy.
Initially, Holliday hoped to reach the goal by this December, but it now seems possible that the magic number will be hit way before that.
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said state education officials are pleased that so many school board have acted promptly to change their policies.
"This signals that educators are committed to doing the right thing for their students and ensuring they are college- and career-ready," Rodriguez said. "We continue to encourage other school boards to raise their compulsory school age to 18 so that they too can begin implementing the new policy during the 2015-16 school year."