Campbellsville Schools approves dropout policy

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By Calen McKinney

As many others did on Tuesday, Campbellsville Board of Education members have said their students must be 18 if they want to drop out of high school.

But the district's top leader says the goal is to keep students in school and help them become successful.

Board members met for about two and a half minutes at 8 a.m. to approve a policy that states students must be 18 years old before they can drop out of their classes at Campbellsville High School.

Board member Suzanne Wilson made a motion to approve the policy, which Barkley Taylor seconded and was unanimously approved. There was no discussion.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill during the January legislation session that calls for an increase in the state's dropout age from 16 to 18.

Though the age was already 18 in Kentucky, students ages 16 and 17 could drop out of high school with a parent's signature.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed that bill into law earlier this year and it officially went into effect Tuesday.

Campbellsville Independent School System was one of many across the state to schedule meetings on Tuesday to adopt a new policy, which will be effective with the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

Taylor County School District hosted a meeting at midnight Tuesday. See a separate story in this issue about that meeting.

Districts that approve the new policy must have programs and resources in place for students at risk of not graduating.

The increased age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of the school districts in Kentucky adopt it.

After Tuesday morning's meeting, Campbellsville Superintendent Mike Deaton said he believes it's important that districts approve the new policy.

"For one, we want all kids in our district to obtain a diploma," he said.

"It's important for us that a child not make a decision at 16 years of age that's going to adversely affect the rest of their lives, especially when we've got a lot of tools in place that can help that child get through a tough stretch ... so they can go ahead and get that diploma and give them some success."

The district has been fortunate in the past few years, Deaton said, to have no students drop out.

Deaton said the district wants each of its students to graduate as either ready for a career or to continue their education at college.

"A fairly large percentage of our students are considered at risk," Deaton said. "Children [who] come from a lower socioeconomic status, really they require more funding, which we're not getting.

"We have programs in place to help those kids, identify those kids that begin to struggle, get them the one-on-one help they need."

He said the district has programs in place to help those considering dropping out. Other districts do too, he said, and that's why he believes many will adopt the new dropout policy.

"I think most folks were already looking at that," he said.

"I think a lot of things are already in place to help kids that are giving thought to dropping out of school. This just kind of formalizes what a lot of districts are already doing."

Taylor County's lawmakers, State Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, were both proponents of increasing the state's dropout age.

Carney said the measure was one of the most important passed during the session and Higdon said he has encouraged the superintendents in his district to approve the bill.

The schools that adopt a policy changing the age from 16 to 18 will be eligible to receive a $10,000 grant, according to the news release.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, grants will be awarded to 57 districts to adopt the policy.

In a news release from Beshear's office, he and his wife, Jane, and Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday encourage the state's 174 school districts to adopt policies increasing the dropout age to 18.

The new law, known as Graduate Kentucky, is the first change to the state's school attendance law since 1934, according to the release.

"The days of dropping out of high school and expecting a dependable, well-paying job are long gone," Beshear stated.

"If the high school dropouts of 2009 had graduated, Kentucky's economy would have an additional $4.2 billion in wages over those students' lifetimes. Guiding those students to graduation creates significant benefits not only for the students themselves, but also for the communities where they live."

Holliday said the KDE's goal is for every Kentucky high school student to graduate ready for college and/or a career.

"We can't do that if they're not in school," he said. "With this law, Kentucky school boards and districts have an opportunity to help students, who would otherwise drop out at 16, stay in school, graduate and become productive taxpaying citizens."

Tuesday was also the first day of the Blitz to 96 initiative, according to the news release, which is a statewide push to reach the 55 percent threshold - 96 districts - that will force the remaining districts in Kentucky to adopt the policy.