In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a staff member of the Kentucky School Advocate.
This month’s conversation is with Susan G. Allred, interim associate commissioner of the state education department’s Office of Next Generation Schools and Districts, discussing implementation of Senate Bill 97, which paved the way for districts to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 beginning in 2015-16.
Q: What is the main objective of the effort to enact SB 97 (Graduate Kentucky)?
A: The Kentucky Department of Education was charged with informing districts about SB 97 that was passed by the legislature this year. The effort to enact the legislation is consistent with the Kentucky Board of Education’s vision to ensure that all students are empowered with the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary to reach proficiency and graduate from high school, to be college and career-ready. By increasing the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18, schools and districts have a greater opportunity to reach that vision. This was a legislative priority of both the governor and the commissioner of education.
Q: Why establish the Blitz to 96 campaign with $10,000 grants going to the first 96 of 173 districts (or 55 percent) rather than just mandate the change statewide?
A: SB 97 did not give the agency the power to mandate the change statewide. Also, the grants will assist early adopters of the policy to plan for the change to age 18 and ensure a smooth transition for both students and staff by having strategies in place to support the affected students.
Q: How have districts gone about the process of adopting the new dropout age?
A: To qualify among the first 96 districts, a local school board had to pass a policy to raise the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18, with implementation beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Next, they verified passage of the policy on or after June 26 and uploaded information to KDE’s ASSIST online site and also submitted a grant request to the Commissioner’s Office. Requests are reviewed and certified in accordance with SB 97. Grant recipients are then notified of their certification.
Q: From the opening of the campaign on June 26, school boards quickly took action and reached the goal of 96 districts approving the change within the first two weeks of the Blitz. Was it the money or was it that the higher dropout age was a long-awaited requirement for students that brought about the rapid response?
A: I choose to believe that districts in Kentucky have accepted the challenge of being an economic catalyst and assisting their communities in seeing that every child is prepared for something beyond high school, and that they saw the $10,000 as a way to provide time to develop an innovative plan to collaborate with all partners to make something amazing for students.
I am extremely encouraged by the opportunity for us to be thinking innovatively rather than saying “Oh, no! What are we doing with these children?” But, to say: “OK, if we are serious about college and career readiness in Kentucky, this means that everyone has to step up and we have to listen and to talk with each other and collaborate.” How exciting is that! I think it is a great opportunity for Kentucky.
Q: What is KDE looking for in how districts use the $10,000 grants?
A: Commissioner Holliday’s Blog on April 12 addressed that when he said: “I can think of no better use of those funds than to provide these dollars to local school districts to develop/modify plans to ensure more students graduate from high school prepared with college/career-ready skills ... The funds may be used to develop a clear plan with all stakeholders to provide the programs and services to ensure the policy actually increases graduation and college/career readiness rates ... we hope that regions will work together to develop regional solutions.”
Q: Will there be any financial assistance to the remainder of the districts?
A: The $570,000 dropout prevention money that paid for the KDE-funded portion of incentives should be available in another school year (2014-15) and will be distributed. Each student also brings in SEEK funding. Most schools receive Title I funds. We encourage the blending of funds to address the needs of these students
Q: What is the implementation timeline for districts?
A: Kevin Brown, KDE associate commissioner, says that because the 55 percent was reached in the 2013-2014 school year (after July 1, 2013), then the four-year mandatory requirement for adoption of the policy by all of those districts who have not yet adopted a policy would be the 2017-2018 school year. However, he reminds districts to keep in mind that as they continue to adopt through 2015-16 fiscal year, unless the policy specifically states it is not going into effect until 2017-2018 or another intervening year, the policy would go into effect in 2015-16 for that district.
Q: Does SB 97 imply that staying in school is mandated until age 18 or until graduation from high school?
A: The criteria is graduation even if the student is younger than 18.
Q: What about more behavior problems?
A: Not every dropout is a behavior issue. Life hits these kids. Some become parents early and have to provide for their families. Others get into attendance trouble and don’t see a way out. They have health issues or they don’t have an adult support system. They wind up having to provide for families whether it is their own children or brothers and sisters. We must have collaborative conversation in communities about what we can do together to keep these students in school.
Q: What types of programs and services will KDE expect districts to adopt to help ensure that more students will be successful after graduation?
A: Our hope is that districts will look at the pipeline within their school systems to identify where students get off track and use the Individualized Learning Plans (ILP) and interventions to address the learning issues along the way. The idea of planning grants was to provide funding to have districts examine their K-12 support systems to determine how to be successful with students who struggle and to keep them in school. This past year, 704 KAR 19:002 Alternative Education Programs, was passed. KDE will be sharing ideas and processes for implementing that regulation to assist schools and districts in building comprehensive alternatives for their students. Watch for guidance and direction at: http://education.ky.gov/school/eap/Pages/default.aspx.
Q: What is the purpose of waiting three to four years to implement the change?
A: Planning. There are all kinds of decisions that will need to be made. Just raising the age doesn’t do it. You will have to have quality college and career programs in place that will involve the community. There has to be an understanding for the child who is having difficulty in fifth, sixth or seventh grade that we have a plan for you. This is not a Band-Aid. It is a systemic fix to keep kids in school. Dropout legislation applies to elementary, middle and high school students. Elementary teachers can tell you which children will likely drop out – so, what can we do at that level? It is not just about 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds.
The delay gives early starter districts opportunities to help design programs. For those more hesitant, it gives them time to learn from early adopters.
Districts will have the opportunity to capture best practices and programs from across the state and to share their stories.
Q: In Gov. Beshear’s efforts to promote increasing the dropout age, he has talked about the beneficial impact it will have on Kentucky’s workforce and economy. What is the current dropout rate? How will this change impact Kentucky’s future economy?
A: The dropout rate is the percent of students who drop out of school and is collected for grades 7 through 12. In Kentucky, approximately 5,000 teens, or 22 percent, drop out each year. The governor’s efforts are very commendable. I believe he is saying the change is an economic catalyst as well as an opportunity for the fulfillment of SB1, in which everybody in Kentucky who has anything to do with education and the workforce needs to be talking to each other.
Q: How are funding issues being addressed?
A: I think planning is going to be the key. I don’t see it as an unfunded mandate, because the SEEK money is there for those students. Districts may need different programming, not necessarily more programming. In the past, we might have said we have 50 more students so we need to add two English, two math, and two science teachers, etc. That is not how we need to look at it now. Instead, we need to assess what these children need and how we can meet their needs. Then, the dollars should be designated to address those needs.
We are encouraging people to be wise about how they spend their money and work with their communities and talk about what kind of partnerships they can develop with business and industry to create apprenticeships and internships. And, to work with colleges and technical schools on programs that blur the lines of where one ends and the other begins. We are looking at collaboratively spending public and private money for these outcomes. Collaboration is huge, huge! We cannot do this by ourselves.