FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Students wouldn't be allowed to drop out of school before their 18th birthday under legislation that has passed the House Thursday afternoon.
The vote was 87-10 in the Democratically controlled chamber. Gov. Steve Beshear, a two-term Democrat, has been promoting the legislation for years, most recently in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech.
The proposal would increase the dropout age incrementally from 16 to 17 to 18 over a period of years, giving both students and school districts time to adjust to the change.
The legislation now goes to the Senate. The House has approved the measure in past years, but it has never been passed by the Republican majority in the Senate.
State Rep. Steve Greer, a Brandenburg Democrat, said this is the fourth year in a row he's pushed the bill.
"Let this be the year that we finally agree that we must keep our teenagers and our kids in school, that we have expectations for them to stay in school," he said before the vote.
Greer said the current dropout age dates back to 1920.
"At that time, if you had a strong back, chances were very likely you could find a job good enough to support your family," he said. "Now we happen to be in a different time."
Greer said today's teens are unlikely to get jobs at local restaurants or be able to join the military without a diploma.
State Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, voted "no," stating that students who are 16 years old and 17 years old can't drop out without parents' consent, a decision with which he doesn't want to interfere.
"They're the ones who ultimately make the decision," he said. "And for that reason I cannot support the bill even though I support its aims. I may disagree with the parents of that 16-year-old, but they're not my kids."
State Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, also voted no. He and other critics of the bill have said the classrooms could be disrupted by students who don't want to be in school.
The legislation is House Bill 224.