Commonwealth Journal

June 29, 2013

Pulaski, Somerset schools raise drop-out age

By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer
Associated Press

Somerset —

Local school systems are acting quickly to try and make sure they reaped the full benefits from a state initiative to keep kids in the classroom longer.
The Pulaski County School Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to raise the legal drop-out age from 16 to 18 years old.
In March, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed into law Senate Bill 97, which allowed individual school districts to raise their drop-out qualification for students by two years. Unless a school district opts for that, students stop attending school with a parent’s consent at age 16, prior to their senior year.
There is a reward, however, for getting on the bus, so to speak: The first 100 schools to change their guidelines to make the legal age 18 would receive a $10,000 grant. That’s a deal that the county school district wanted to be in on.
“(Wednesday) was the first time that anybody could actually do it,” said Pulaski Superintendent Steve Butcher of voluntarily raising the age. “We wanted to be one of the first school systems to get that grant money.”
Besides the financial incentive, there are other benefits to raising the drop-out age according to Butcher — specifically, making sure more students graduate and better their lives.
“As educators, we’ve got to embrace that everybody needs to get a high school degree,” said Butcher. “Many times, a 16-year-old doesn’t know what kind of life skills he or she needs. It’s important to us that everyone gets his diploma.
“We should not allow a 16-year-old to make that decision when they are at an age where they may not be able to make that kind of decision,” he added.
Butcher couldn’t say specifically what the grant money would be spent on as of yet, but noted that the state would earmark it for specific purposes.
“It will go towards programs to help 18-year-old kids who may need extra help, extra work,” he said.
On Friday, the Somerset Independent Schools Board of Education likewise voted to raise its drop-out age. 
“The fact of the matter is, it’s essential legislation. It’s something we’re going to have to do from a legal standpoint anyway,” said Somerset Superintendent Boyd Randolph. “Secondly, research to date supports that students who are engaged longer and more thoroughly (in school) are more successful in life. This is a legislative means of helping to ensure that.”
Randolph said that the city school district has a “number of opportunities” and programs in place that he feels will “dovetail perfectly” with the new legislation, including an alternative graduation policy.
“Our high school principal (Wes Cornett) coordinated and organized an ad hoc group to look and problems and develop solutions to decide what we could do without compromising a student’s educational experience,” said Randolph. “Our board adopted the alternative graduation program. It’s not for everybody, you have to meet strict criteria to qualify, but for those who can, it might keep them in school a little bit longer.
“The object isn’t just to get (students) out,” he added. “The object is to give them every opportunity to fully develop the skills they need when they leave here.”