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Dropout age could raise to 17 by 2016 if voted into law

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By Tom McKee

FRANKFORT – In today’s economy, most employers ask for at least some postsecondary experience and all but require a high school degree.  Those who drop out are often not even considered.
Even so, leaving high school early is exactly what 6,200 young men and women do each year across Kentucky, a decision that will adversely affect them for the rest of their lives.  As a result, they will not earn as much money – about a million dollars less when compared to someone with a four-year college degree – and they will more likely need public assistance.  They’ll also be at greater risk of winding up in prison, given that well over half of our inmates didn’t graduate from high school.
For several years now, the Kentucky House of Representatives has tried to counter this trend by raising the dropout age from 16 to 18.  It’s something 21 other states have already done, while nearly a dozen others have raised theirs to 17.
On Thursday, with First Lady Jane Beshear – a strong supporter – watching from the gallery, the House voted again to make this happen.  Should it become law, the dropout age would rise to 17 in 2016 and then to 18 in the following year.
It is understood that raising the age alone is not enough.  It will be equally important in the coming years to take further steps to actively engage these students so that they want to be in school.  Meeting that challenge, however, is better than the alternative.
In other legislation affecting children, my colleagues and I have voted to create a task force that will take a closer look at our younger citizens caught up in the judicial system.  There are several different types of cases to be reviewed, including status offenders – those charged with violations like truancy that are not an issue for adults – and how we should handle those 10 and younger who are charged with a crime.  We also want to see just how much of a negative effect there is for children involved in domestic violence situations.  
Two other bills making it through the House last week center on elections.  Under the first, special elections to fill open seats in the General Assembly would be much less expensive if there is only one candidate on the ballot.  In this case, the election could be held in the county clerk’s office or another site, keeping counties from having to staff all of the precincts.  The bill is named after former state Rep. Dewayne Bunch, who had to resign last year after being critically injured in the school where he was a teacher.  His wife was the only person chosen to replace him.
The other election bill would apply to all statewide candidates when they run again in 2015.   In this case, they would be required to file electronic financial reports, making it easier and quicker for voters to have the information they need.
On a personal note, I was pleased that a bill of mine made it through the House this past week. Under it, smaller tracts of land – five acres instead of the current 10 – could qualify as an agricultural district, if the land has been used for farming purposes for at least a year.  If this becomes law, it will help strengthen our rural communities.
This week, the General Assembly enters the second half of the legislative session.  We have already had considerable discussion on the major issues of the day, but expect that to intensify in the weeks ahead.  A House vote on the budget is expected in the first of March, and the final document should be ready for the governor’s signature by the end of that month.
In the meantime, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues before the General Assembly.  I can be reached by writing to Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.