By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Four Tri-County school districts were among the first 96 districts statewide to adopt the new policy raising the compulsory dropout age from 16 to 18.
As a result, the Corbin Independent, Knox County, Williamsburg Independent and Barbourville Independent school districts not only won the race in the “Blitz to 96,” they will be getting a check in the mail later this month — in the form of a $10,000 planning grant to be used for programs and initiatives to keep students in school.
The announcement was made Wednesday in Frankfort, and was quickly welcomed by three of the four districts named.
“We’re glad to be part of the first group. We’ll use it for alternative-type programs, which we’ve had in place at Corbin for years. The board saw years ago that there was a need for alternative-type programs, and we started our first alternative school in Corbin, I believe, in 1995. We didn’t have funding for alternative-type programs for years, but we do now. We’ll gladly put the money in the bank,” said Corbin Independent Superintendent Ed McNeel.
Williamsburg Independent Superintendent Denny Byrd said the district was “absolutely elated to be among the first 96.”
“We got it in pretty quick. We’ll use the money to buy a credit recovery program, featuring individual instruction and attention for alternative-needs students. This will be a more beneficial way to bring alternative-needs students into the mainstream. ... Our principal, Gary Peters and I will visit a couple of schools who have this program in the days ahead, and see if it fits our needs. I see a great benefit to those students immediately, and down the road,” he said.
“When the new policy goes into effect, this will give us the legal support needed to keep students in school longer,” said Frank Shelton, public relations director for Knox County Schools. “We, like most school districts I would imagine, have heard the question of why force them to come to school when they have no interest. The question for us, and others, should be a call to action of what we can do to prepare this student with life skills and career knowledge that they can use once they graduate or turn 18.
“We are looking forward to receiving the funding from the state, but that is not the reason we adopted this policy,” Shelton added. “Increasing the dropout age was simply the right thing to do for students and Knox County. Once we do receive it (details on the funding specifics), the funds will help support awareness and prevention programs in our schools.”
The four schools voted to adopt the policy during board meetings last month. The policy will be fully implemented by them in the 2015-16 school year.
The raising of the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 came as the result of Senate Bill 97, which was passed earlier this year by the state legislature. The bill amended the school attendance law passed in 1934, and was known as the “Graduate Kentucky” bill.
In a news release Wednesday, Gov. Steve Beshear noted that students who graduate from an accredited or approved four-year high school before they turn 18 are exempt from the new policy.
The “Graduate Kentucky” bill made adopting the new standard voluntary by school districts until 55 percent of the districts — or 96 of 173 districts in Kentucky — adopted the policy.
Since the threshold was reached Wednesday, the remaining school districts in the state now must adopt and implement the compulsory dropout age of 18 no later than the 2017-18 school year.
To get districts to adopt the new age as quickly as possible, the governor and the Kentucky Department of Education launched a campaign called “Blitz to 96” two weeks ago.
The first day for local school boards to adopt the standard was June 25.
A total of 58 districts voted to adopt the policy within 48 hours. A total of 75 districts adopted it within a week. The Governor’s Office said Wednesday they reached 96 districts within two weeks, with more preparing to approve the standard.
The state Department of Education provided the $10,000 planning grants to the first 96 districts who helped the campaign reach the 55 percent threshold designed to be used to plan for implementation of the policy in the 2015-16 school year.
State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday commended those districts who took fast action to raise the dropout age to 18, and encouraged other school boards to do so.
“Although we have reached the maximum number of planning grants that we can find, we would still encourage all districts to pass a policy this school year so that more students will stay in school and on track to college-and career-readiness at an earlier date. It is the right thing to do for our students and the right thing for Kentucky,” Holliday said.
Beshear said he was overwhelmed by the support school districts showed in what he called, “racing to adopt this policy.”
“We know that keeping our students in school will not only offer them a better future, but will ensure that Kentucky has a better-trained, better-prepared workforce that will benefit the state for decades to come,” Beshear said.