Changing the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 is a legislative priority once again for the Kentucky Board of Education. During the board’s regular meeting Wednesday, board members approved a legislative agenda for the upcoming session that starts in January.

Previous attempts to change the dropout age have been unsuccessful because of questions about how alternative education programs to help at-risk students would be funded.

Kentucky Department of Education General Counsel Kevin Brown says the higher dropout age also has the support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Officials estimate that around 6,500 Kentucky students leave high school each year without their diploma.

Kentucky’s high school graduation rate is currently around 78 percent.

The legislation, which has failed in previous sessions, would have an estimated fiscal impact of 24 million dollars to pay for more alternative education and dropout prevention programs. But board member Mary Gwen Wheeler says research from the Alliance for Excellent Education shows that’s far less than what dropouts cost the state in the long run.

“So there are savings,” Wheeler said. “There’s a very sound analysis that’s been done by this national organization that estimates savings in prison costs, income supports, things of that nature that could be balanced there.”