The news about Kentucky’s graduation rate is, indeed, good for Kentucky’s kids today and for Kentucky’s future.

Beyond the numbers announced by the Governor today, there awaits both opportunities and obligations around the recent passage of SB 97 by the Kentucky General Assembly. This bill gives school districts throughout Kentucky the discretion to raise the high school dropout age to 18. After 55 percent of school districts choose to raise the dropout age to 18 from the current requirement of 16, the policy will become mandatory statewide four years after the threshold is met.

Supporters of the “raise the age” bill see it as a lever for even more progress.  Critics worry that it will unintentionally put more youth at risk.  The critical issue is actually whether additional reforms will come to undergird SB 97.

For example, reforms in juvenile justice can ensure that youth with truancy issues – especially those older youth who will now be mandated to attend – are put on the right path to success rather than being locked up and entering a pipeline to adult prison.  If reforms are made in juvenile justice, then more and more young people will graduate.  If those reforms don’t happen, then we will have more and more young people in cells.

As another example, there have been significant improvements to alternative and technical programming throughout the state but that progress is still at a beginning stage.  If differentiated pathways to graduation are actively promoted, then graduation rates will soar.  If we fail to act on that responsibility, then we are going to have a record number of seventeen year olds who see school as an irrelevant mandate.

It is vitally important for a high school diploma to be within the reach of all.  SB 97 can accelerate that process if – and only if – attendant reforms come and come quickly.