Should Kentucky high schoolers have to wait until the age of 18 before they can legally drop out?
Gov. Steve Beshear thinks so, and he is vowing to again try to get such a law passed in the next General Assembly, which gets underway Jan. 8. Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear, have long been proponents of gradually raising the state's dropout age from 16 to 18. In the past, the Beshears backed a measure that would incrementally raise the dropout age over a period of years to 17 and then to 18, giving students, parents, and school districts time to adjust to the new rules.
Proponents say such a change in state law would have far-reaching societal benefits since dropouts are more likely to go to prison or rely on welfare.
Opponents say while the idea may be well-intentioned, it would simply force disruptive and uncaring students to remain in classrooms against their will, having unintended negative consequences for other students, teachers, and administrators.
Cravens Elementary School teacher Ryan Williams was one of 40 people nationally to receive the 2012 Milken Award and the only recipient in Kentucky. The award comes with a $25,000 gift.
Williams is a native of Henderson and began teaching in Owensboro Public Schools in 1999 after graduating from WKU. He taught first grade for 11 years before moving to third grade. He's currently on temporary assignment as curriculum facilitator at Estes Elementary School.
"I try to ebgage the students every day, find something that interests them, something they can relate to," Williams said. "I come to work every day with a smile on my face."
Advocates for raising the dropout age in Kentucky have a new hope heading into the next legislative session. Currently, Kentucky law allows 16-year-olds to dropout of school with parental permission. And education advocates have pushed to raise the minimum dropout age to 18.
Dropout bills have consistently failed in Frankfort, but advocates are emboldened this year now that former Senate President David Williams is no longer in the General Assembly.
But new Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says that doesn't mean the bill is a sure thing.
“Because there are legitimate policy concerns we have had with raising the dropout age to 18," the Georgetown Republican says.