Gov. Steve Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear and Education Commissioner Terry Holliday yesterday commended school boards across Kentucky that raced to adopt the new “Graduate Kentucky” standard, keeping students in school until they earn a high school diploma or turn 18.

Just two weeks after they could vote to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18, 96 school districts have adopted the policy and more are in the process of approving it.

“After five years of hard work by Commissioner Holliday, the First Lady and others to implement raising the compulsory graduation age to 18, I am overwhelmed by the support our school boards have shown by racing to adopt this policy,” said Gov. Beshear.  “We know that keeping our students in school will not only offer them a better future, but will ensure that Kentucky has a better-trained, better-prepared workforce that will benefit the state for decades to come.  Implementing this important policy shows that Kentucky puts a high value on education by putting faith in our students.”

Senate Bill 97 (SB 97), known as the “Graduate Kentucky” bill, passed earlier this year and phases in an increase in the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18, amending the school attendance law created in 1934.

Students who graduate from an accredited or an approved four-year high school before they turn 18 are exempt from the new policy, Gov. Beshear noted.

SB 97 made adoption voluntary until 55 percent—or 96—of the state’s school districts adopt the policy.  Since that threshold has been reached, the remainder of Kentucky’s 173 districts must now adopt and implement a compulsory attendance age of 18 no later than the 2017-18 school year.

Two weeks ago, leaders launched “Blitz to 96” – an effort to get 96 school districts to adopt the higher compulsory attendance age as soon as possible.  June 25 was the first day local boards of education could adopt the “Graduate Kentucky” standard; within the first 48 hours, 58 districts had voted to implement the policy and within the first week, 75 districts had done so.

“We achieved our goal much faster than we anticipated,” said Mrs. Beshear, who championed the ‘Graduate Kentucky’ legislation. “The effort speaks so highly of the dedicated school boards, administrators, parents, teachers and communities who have made high school graduation a top priority for our students.”

Planning grants of $10,000 are being provided through the Kentucky Department of Education to the first 96 school districts that joined the effort to reach the 55 percent threshold. The funds are designed to be used to plan for full implementation of the policy in the 2015-16 school year.

“We are excited that so many of our boards and districts have taken quick action to raise the compulsory school attendance age to 18,” Commissioner Holliday said. “Although we have reached the maximum number of planning grants that we can fund, we would still encourage all districts to pass a policy this school year so that more students will stay in school and on track to college- and career-readiness at an earlier date. It is the right thing to do for our students and the right thing for Kentucky.”

Research shows that high school graduates live longer, are less likely to be teen parents, and are more likely to raise healthier, better-educated children. High school graduates are also less likely to commit crimes, rely on government healthcare or use other public services.