By Jennifer Wohlleb
The data is in on how the first 97 school districts to increase their compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18 last year spent the $10,000 grants from the Kentucky Department of Education for doing so.
The grants were offered as an incentive to districts after Senate Bill 97 passed in 2013, making it voluntary for districts to raise the attendance age until 55 percent of all districts in the state took that action. After that, it becomes mandated statewide beginning in 2016-17. It took two weeks to reach the tipping point.
“The only stipulation on the grant money was that the money needed to be spent toward dropout prevention,” said Tom Edgett, branch manager for KDE’s Alternatives for Learning department. Education Commissioner Terry “Holliday wanted to leave districts with the ability to be open and to be as innovative as they wanted to be, because we know every district is different; the needs in Perry County are much different from the needs in Fayette County. But the money had to be spent on dropout prevention and it had to have the ability to affect middle and elementary as well as high school.”
KDE sent out surveys in March to see how the districts in the first wave spent that money.
“I was very, very pleased when we started getting the data in,” Edgett said. “The districts took it pretty seriously. It’s not a lot of money for most districts; $10,000 would probably run Fayette County’s district for about four minutes, but the districts were very creative, and the smaller ones especially were just ecstatic to get that little bit of help.”
The grants were used for everything from purchasing digital and online curriculum and technology, to helping fund intervention specialists to professional development and training. (See chart)
“Any districts that called for guidance, I told them that we really would like to see them push this down to middle and elementary because kids who drop out at 16 didn’t drop out at 16; they just left school at 16,” Edgett said. “They dropped out years and years ago and they’ve just been biding their time. We have to start catching these kids early. We’ve got data out there right now on kindergarten readiness, and we can already tell in kindergarten which kids are at risk to drop out.”
The first 97 districts to raise their attendance age received the grant money last summer; districts 98-152 that increased the mandatory attendance age received their grants this July.
“We hope that the remaining districts that have not adopted, will; we’ve got money earmarked in the hopes that they will be coming on board in the next three or four months,” he said.