Advocates for Kentucky’s children and working families will ask the General Assembly to rein in payday lenders and raising the high school dropout age as first steps in a six-year “Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children.”

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said lawmakers have “challenged us to create a six-year agenda around common themes and bring them an agenda which is very consensual and very focused” rather than multiple children’s advocacy groups proposing many different programs.

The blueprint focuses on three major areas: fair opportunity for every child; a fair deal for working parents; and safe and healthy families.

One of the proposals for 2009 is to increase the drop-out age from 16 to 18, Brooks said. Kentucky calculates drop-out rates in a variety of ways and it’s a moving target. For instance, school districts’ drop-out rates run between 4 and 6 percent, but its graduation rate is roughly 83 percent, said Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, Deputy Director for KYA. Increasing the drop-out age will improve the numbers, regardless of how they’re calculated.

The plan also calls for another attempt in the 2009 session to “curb the check cashers,” Brooks said. Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, tried to pass a bill last year which would have made it easier to prevent simultaneous loans from multiple, high-interest lenders – who sometimes charge interest rates as high as 300 percent – but it never got a vote in the Senate. Grieshop-Goodwin said this year’s proposal might seek to cap interest rates for such lenders, emulating a measure passed in Ohio which capped them at 28 percent, although no details have been settled.

Other proposals in the blueprint are to reduce detention of status offenders (offenses by minor children which wouldn’t be crimes if they were adults, such as habitual truancy and running away from home); making quality pre-school available for all 3- and 4-year-olds; implementing an earned income tax credit for low-income families; requiring more physical activity for elementary school children; and increasing enrollment in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program or K-CHIP.

While the coalition of non-profit and social service agencies will pursue all of those over the six years of the plan, they will concentrate on the drop-out age and payday lenders in the 2009 session.

“We’re not pushing that many items in 2009,” Brooks said, noting the financial crunch the state is in and that the 2009 session is a non-budget year session. “But we can help working parents in tackling predatory lenders. Curbing cash checkers doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com.

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