David Karem, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE), recently provided the following letter to the editor.
House Bill 2 supported
House Bill 2 is a piece of legislation in front of the General Assembly that would raise the state's high school dropout age from 16 to 18. One of the arguments being raised against this legislation is that it is an unfunded mandate. The truth is that one of the greatest “unfunded” mandates in our commonwealth is the enormous number of Kentucky adults who have no high school diploma.
It is an absolute that without a high school diploma, you are less employable, more likely to be a resident in one of our state prisons, more likely to require welfare, and will earn significantly less over your lifetime. One of Kentucky's great challenges with regard to economic development is demonstrating to employers that we have a high quality work force. Lack of a high school diploma contributes greatly to the negative image of our commonwealth.
So strongly does the Kentucky Board of Education feel about HB 2 that it is our No. 1 and only legislative priority. The board has taken a unanimous position in favor of this legislation. The time is now to move Kentucky forward and eliminate the true unfunded mandate of a lack of high school diploma.
DAVID K. KAREM
State Board of Education
Chairman Karem and the KBE have been clear on their goals. As commissioner, I have worked to meet the goal of the KBE by working with numerous stakeholders to draft legislation that eventually became House Bill 2 (the Graduation Bill) in the 2011 Special Session. I have testified numerous times to House and Senate committees and have been a champion for this effort during numerous Graduate Kentucky summits across Kentucky and many other public events.
We need this tool to help children reach success; however, this tool alone is not enough. We must implement excellent alternative programs for students to address behavior and learning needs. We must have programs like early graduation, early college, virtual/blended learning, mastery based learning and career/technical education. We must provide support for teachers and principals as they improve their ability to meet the needs of ALL children.
Every day and in every speech, I try to put a face on this issue. In our schools today, there are 50,000 8th-grade students. If we don’t do something different, only 17,000 of these students will graduate in 2015 having the readiness skills for college and career. We are working hard to double that number to 34,000 by 2015 through the support of tools like 2009’s Senate Bill 1. However, we also know that about 15,000 of these 8th graders will drop out of school when they are 16 or 17.
We must do MANY things differently; however, the first step begins with changing the expectations for Kentucky children and the expectations of adults (parents, teachers and administrators). It is time to come together as policy makers and decision makers in Kentucky and set these expectations through legislation and then implement the programs to make the legislation successful.