The recent “Diplomas Count” study certainly gave us something to celebrate in Kentucky. The Kentucky graduation rate for the Class of 2010 (the most recent data available for this report) was 77.2 percent – better than the national average of 74.7 percent. Kentucky ranked third in the nation for most improvement in the graduation rate over the last decade, gaining 13.5 percentage points compared to a national improvement of 7.9 points.
That is good news. But more work is needed.
According to “Diplomas Count,” Kentucky had 53,524 students enter 9th grade in 2009-10, but only 42,067 students were estimated to graduate four years later (2012-13). That means 11,457 students did not graduate within four years. This is why Gov. Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear and I launched “Blitz to 96” last week, calling on the state’s 173 school districts to adopt a new policy that requires students remain in school until their 18th birthdays. The Kentucky Board of Education passed a resolution encouraging districts to do the same earlier this year.
Senate Bill 97 (SB 97), known as the “Graduate Kentucky” bill, passed this year and phases in an increase in compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18, amending the school attendance law created in 1934. The adoption of SB 97 is voluntary until 55 percent of the state’s school districts adopt the policy. Once 96 districts have approved the change, the remaining school districts must adopt and implement the policy within four years.
A high school diploma is a must if students are to go on to college and career training and ultimately achieve dependable, well-paying jobs. Further, research shows high school graduates live longer and are less likely to commit crimes, rely in government healthcare or use other public services. Increasing the number of high school graduates in Kentucky also will benefit the state; 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.
Our goal is to graduate every student in Kentucky ready for college and career. Keeping them in school is an important first step to meeting that goal, but it is only the first. Educators, schools and communities need to work together to develop and expand strategies and programs to keep students engaged in school, and relevant learning. We need to identify students who are at risk for dropping out sooner, and give them the supports they need to not only stay in school but also find success.
From my school visits around the state I know schools and districts are already engaged with this type of work, often utilizing multiple approaches, from dual credit and early college programs to special mentoring and credit-recovery programs. This work is making a difference to your students and this state. Please join me in continuing this critical and positive work by ensuring all Kentucky’s public school students stay in school until age 18.