Why raising the dropout age is a good step

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Guest column by Matt Wyatt

The Elizabethtown Independent Board of Education, along with more 100 school districts in Kentucky, sent a message in June to students and parents in Kentucky: Dropping out of school is no longer acceptable.

Thanks to the Legislature, Gov. Steve Beasher and Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holiday, school boards across Kentucky were given the chance to increase the dropout age to 18. The changes will be enacted for the 2015-16 school year.

Furthermore, raising the compulsory attendance age to 18 not only sends a message about the importance of a high school diploma but it gives students a better chance for high paying jobs and, as studies have shown, will ultimately will save taxpayers for social safety net costs.

More than 6,000 students drop out of school in Kentucky every year. Reducing that number has been a goal for many years — especially in impoverished areas.

Now, the expectation level for students, parents, teachers and the community has risen. That is a good thing. Kentucky has long been at the bottom of most education indicators. Raising expectations is critical in order to reverse our historic position.

The challenge for school districts will be how to make high school more relevant for students. For some students, the last two years of high school is wasted time. Districts need to engage at-risk students early and often. Trade school opportunities, community mentorships and real-world counseling is needed. Not every student will go to college but every student needs to have a clear goal and direction for life after high school.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “May you live in interesting times.” We are living in interesting times.

School boards throughout Kentucky are facing many challenges. Reduced funding from the state and federal government along with increasing expectations have forced school boards to make difficult decisions. That is our job and we do not shrink from it. However, increasing the dropout age was one of the easiest decisions I have made while serving and one that I believe moves Kentucky in the right direction.

Matt Wyatt is a member of the Elizabethtown Independent Schools’ board.