February 17, 2012

FRANKFORT FOCUS – A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – When it comes to high school dropouts in Kentucky, one number in particular stands out: 33.

 That’s how many students on average walked out of the classroom each and every school day in 2010, amounting to 6,200 students over the entire year.

It’s a staggering figure, and for many of these young adults, it’s a decision that will hinder them for the rest of their lives, especially in an economy that now all but requires a college diploma to succeed. By not graduating high school, this group will collectively earn several billion dollars less than their other classmates, and they will cost the state tens of millions of dollars more because of greater need for government services.

Over the last several years, the Kentucky House of Representatives has worked with Governor Beshear, First Lady Jane Beshear, the Kentucky Board of Education and other educational organizations to try to reverse that trend.  The first step in that direction is raising the dropout age from 16 – where it has been since at least the 1930s – to 18.

The House has passed this several times and took it up again on Thursday, in the hope that this will be the legislative session in which Kentucky joins the 21 other states that have already taken the same step. If this legislation does become law, the compulsory school age would rise to 17 in 2016 and then to 18 the following year.

We know that raising the dropout age is not enough by itself; it will take a renewed effort to engage these students so they want to be better prepared for the future.   Still, that is far more preferable than letting them make a decision that will adversely affect them – and all of us – for decades to come.

As we move forward to help these children in school, the House is also pushing to take a closer look at children caught up in the judicial system.  That’s why the chamber unanimously voted for legislation to set up a task force to study several different aspects of these cases.  This includes status offenses – violations like truancy that would not be an issue if committed by an adult – and how best to handle children 10 and younger who are charged with a crime.  If this becomes law, the task force will also better gauge what effect domestic violence situations have on children.

In other action this past week, the House voted for two bills centered on elections.  The first would require all candidates running for statewide office to file their election finance reports electronically, beginning in 2015, while the second would greatly reduce the costs for special elections that are necessary when there is an open seat in the General Assembly and only one candidate is on the ballot.

In these situations, voting could take place at just the county clerk’s office or another designated site, negating the need to staff a full election outside of the traditional dates in May and November.  The bill is named in honor of former state Rep. Dewayne Bunch, who was critically injured last year in Whitley County while breaking up a fight in the school where he taught.  After he resigned, his wife was the sole candidate on the ballot to complete the remainder of his term.

Now that the first half of the legislative session is behind us, and the major issues are known and getting the public vetting they deserve, the House and Senate are poised to see the level of debate increase significantly over the next month and a half.

If you would like to take part in this, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your views.  You can write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer