When Can You Drop Out of School in Kentucky?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Kentucky no longer allows you to withdraw from school legally until you turn 18. If you stop going to school before then, you’ll lose your driver’s license.

It used to be that students in the United States were allowed to drop out when they were 16 or 17. And that’s still true in about half of the states. But the trend is toward requiring kids to stay in school until they turn 18 or graduate. Kentucky is one of the latest states to join that trend. Below is a summary of Kentucky’s requirements for staying in school, what happens when students stop attending class before they’re 18, and how drop outs can get high school equivalency diplomas.

Kentucky’s Legal Dropout Age

Kentucky’s compulsory education law says that all children between the ages of six and 16 must attend school. However, the law also provided that individual school districts could raise the dropout age in their schools from 16 to 18. Once 55% of the districts did that, all of the state’s school districts were required to follow suit within four years. As a result of that process, students across Kentucky are no longer allowed to withdraw from school until their 18th birthday. That’s true even if they go to private school. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 159.010 (2019).)

Exceptions for Attendance Requirements in Kentucky

Kentucky school officials may exempt students from attendance requirements if they have a documented physical or mental condition that makes going to school “inadvisable.” Special ed students may be able to study at home or in the hospital if that’s in their individualized education program (IEP). (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 159.030 (2019).)

Kentucky’s Truancy Policies

Even if you’re 18, dropping out could lead to a range of long-term financial costs. But if you simply stop going to school before you’re old enough to withdraw legally, you could face more immediate consequences.

In general, Kentucky leaves it up to local school districts to come up with policies for dealing with truants, including early intervention and prevention programs. But once you’ve skipped enough school to be considered a dropout, you’ll lose the right to drive in Kentucky until you turn 18. If you’ve had nine or more unexcused absences in the previous semester, the school superintendent will report your name to the Transportation Cabinet, which will revoke your driver’s license or permit (or deny your application for one). Your parent may request a hearing to appeal that decision, but the court will reinstate your driving privilege only if it’s satisfied that you need the license to help your family economically and prevent undue hardship, or you’re the only licensed driver in your household. (Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 159.051, 159.150 (2019).)

Kentucky High School Equivalency Diploma

Dropouts can earn a high school equivalency diploma by passing the Kentucky GED test. Usually, you need to be 19 before you’re allowed to take the test. However, you may take the test at age 18 if you’ve been officially withdrawn from school for at least 90 days or you’re in a special program like Job Corps; you might be able to get a waiver of the 90-day requirement for certain reasons. Youth who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court or the state’s family services agency may get approval to take the test at age 17. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 164.0064, 13 Ky. Admin. Regs. 3:050 (2019).)

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