By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
This week, at least four Tri-County school districts have adopted, or will adopt policies raising their high school dropout age from 16 to 18 years old beginning in the 2015-16 school year. And, they will also apply for a $10,000 state grant from the Kentucky Board of Education.
If they get the grants, the districts can use the money for dropout-prevention planning and other related purposes.
But to get the grants, they will have plenty of competition.
On April 10, state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday offered a $10,000 state grant to the first 57 school districts that raised their dropout age to 18. He made the announcement during a state Board of Education meeting in Frankfort, after board members unanimously adopted a resolution urging the state’s 174 public school districts to raise the dropout age as soon as possible.
The state Senate bill, allowing the dropout age to be raised, passed on March 11. Governor Steve Beshear signed the bill in Frankfort seven days later.
The law goes into effect Tuesday.
School districts won’t be able to apply for the planning grants until Wednesday. As a result, no districts in Kentucky have received any of the grants that are available at this time.
The Corbin Board of Education will approve the re-ratification of adopting a district-wide policy to raise the dropout age to 18 during a special meeting Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. at Central Office. Superintendent Ed McNeel said that Corbin Independent will apply for the grant.
Williamsburg Independent Schools will also have the issue on their agenda at their regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Superintendent Dennis Byrd confirmed in a voicemail last Wednesday they would raise the dropout age, and also make a grant application.
The same goes for Barbourville Independent Schools. In a news release emailed last Thursday, Superintendent Larry Warren said the dropout age would be raised and the grant application would be made.
“The Barbourville City Schools has traditionally encouraged students to stay in school until they graduate career-ready and prepared, or college-ready, or both. The Barbourville Independent School District supports all endeavors that will prepare our students for a career and/or college,” he said.
Knox County Public Schools has already voted to raise the dropout age to 18. District spokesperson Frank Shelton said in an email last Thursday the board voted to raise the age during their meeting on May 28. The district will also apply for the $10,000 grant Tuesday.
Laurel County Schools will have their regular meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at their Central Office Administration Building in London. The dropout age action was not listed on their agenda when it was faxed last Friday afternoon, but the agenda could be revised Monday.
Attempts to contact the Whitley County Board of Education on the matter by emails and phone messages last week were not returned as of Friday evening.
Kentucky Department of Education spokesperson Nancy Rodriguez said they have advised districts not to change their policies before Tuesday because it could open them to legal challenges since the law is not yet in effect.
“For those districts that went ahead and changed their policies before June 25, KDE has advised them to ratify the new policies on or after June 25 to avoid possible challenges,” Rodriguez said.
When the school districts change their policies and apply for the grant, Rodriguez said they must follow this process:
—Local boards can act on policies starting Tuesday. Any policies approved before that time will need to be ratified.
—Districts will receive an invitation from AdvancedEd for the ASSIST portion of the process Wednesday. After that time, districts may need to upload a copy of the new district policy with the appropriate signatures and local board minutes, showing the adoption into ASSIST will be required to “sign off” on assurances for implementation through ASSIST.
—Superintendents will send an email confirming the upload and requesting the $10,000 grant funds to SB97@education.ky.gov: the email must indicate that the first two steps have been completed.
—KDE will review the policy and assurances for certification in accordance with SB 97, Section 1(b) 4.
—After July 1, KDE, on a weekly basis, will notify those who will receive the $10,000 grant.
She pointed out while the policies cannot be passed until after “the first moment” of Tuesday, uploading of the polices into ASSIST cannot occur until the invitation of the districts is received from AdvancedEd on Wednesday. The first release of the invitation by ASSIST won’t be known prior to its release. Once the district has uploaded the required documents into ASSIST, the email verification mentioned in the third step may be sent to KDE review.
It took four years to do it, but earlier this year, the state General Assembly approved a bill to allow school districts to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 years of age.
Senate Bill 97 allows districts to increase the compulsory attendance age beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not completing their requirements for graduation.
According the the state Legislative Research Commission, after 55 percent of the state’s school districts adopt the new policy, the increased high school dropout age becomes mandatory statewide in four years.
Those who favor raising the dropout age say it would prevent about 6,000 teenagers in Kentucky from quitting school early each year. Presently, 15 states require students to stay in school until they reach 18.
The state Senate agreed to a change to the bill made by the state House of Representatives, requiring the increased dropout age become mandatory in four years. Supporters said it would allow local school districts to make decisions based on their needs, while promoting uniformity in schools across Kentucky.