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Ky. Parents Want to Increase State's Dropout Age

The majority of Kentucky parents want the state's minimum dropout age increased from 16 to 18 years old, and some think that could help improve the state's graduation rates.

That was one of the key findings in a recent survey of more than 1,000 Kentucky parents, the Kentucky Parent Survey, which was done by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

This has implications for rural education in the state. Nearly half of all Kentucky schools are rural, and only nine states enroll a higher percentage of rural students, according to Why Rural Matters 211-12, a report by the Rural School and Community Trust. In addition, rural areas lag the rest of the country in college-enrollment rates, with only 27 percent of students going to a postsecondary institution compared with 34 percent nationally.

On the Kentucky survey, about 85 percent said they favored raising the dropout age. Only 15 percent said they were opposed to doing so.

"Increasing the dropout age is one strategy aimed at improving the graduation rate in the state," said Susan Zepeda, president/CEO of the foundation, in a news release. "We hope this polling data will encourage a deeper conversation among parents, education experts, and policymakers to explore this and other strategies to help our children succeed at school and lead a more healthy life."

Kentucky's graduation rate in 2011 was 77.8 percent. The foundation's report says 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, use 18 as their legal dropout age. An additional 12 states require students to attend school until they're 17.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, plans to push a bill this year that would gradually raise the dropout age to 18, and he recently told the Associated Press that it sends a great message to the state that "kids need to finish high school to have any kind of opportunity to land a good job and to be able to support a family in the future."

Opponents say increasing the dropout age would keep disruptive student in schools longer and be an unfunded mandate to districts for improving alternative education programs.

The Kentucky Parent Survey has a number of other findings relative to children's health care, school, and home life, such as only 23 percent of parents describe their child's school or daycare meals as "being very nutritious" and less than 9 percent of parents said their children got less than 8 hours of sleep per night.

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