Kentucky legislators passed a bill requiring students to stay in school until they're legally adults before dropping out without earning a high school diploma.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed Senate Bill 97 - known as the Graduation Bill - into law Monday after the legislation passed the state's Senate and House of Representatives earlier this year. The bill requires students to stay in school until the age of 18, a two-year increase from the former dropout age for Kentucky.

"Finally, we have agreed to stop jeopardizing our students' futures by allowing them to leave school before they're even eligible for a driver's license," Beshear said in a release. "Now, we are holding them to 21st century expectations of education and training."

Within the next few years, the law will require all students to attend school until the age of 18 before choosing to drop out without completing the curriculum for a high school diploma. Kentucky joins 15 other states - including Indiana - that require students to stay in school until they're legal adults.

Carroll County Schools plan to join other districts across the state to make the law part of the district's policy at an upcoming board meeting, Superintendent Lisa James said.

"We in Carroll County will go ahead and approve Senate Bill 97," James said. Approval will make the bill a district policy in Carroll County. "We have to be proactive."

She expects the school board to approve the measure at the March or April board meeting, but the changes may not be implemented until the 2015-2016 school year.

James said it's too soon to know if the bill will have an impact or increase the district's graduation rate, but she hopes the changes encourage all children to succeed and focus on college and career readiness.

"I really feel good about (the graduation bill)," James said. "We want these kids to succeed."

Districts across the state also will implement or improve programs to meet the needs of at-risk students before the law goes into effect.

Trimble County Schools Superintendent Marcia Dunaway said the district plans to start the research process for alternative programs before making Senate Bill 97 part of the district's policy.

"We're going to wait and research interventions first," Dunaway said. "Before we do anything, we have to look at (programs)."

The school already utilizes credit recovery classes to help at-risk students graduate instead of drop out of school, but additional programs will be needed to encourage potential dropouts to remain an additional two years in school.

"We're not ready for it yet," Dunaway said of the change, but she does agree that Senate Bill 97 is needed and a move in the right direction. "It's what's best for the kids."

Under the new law, students under the age of 18 wanting to drop out of school can only do so after meeting with the principal, holding a conference with a parent or guardian and receiving written notification from the parent or guardian. Students, in addition to a parent or guardian, also would be required to attend counseling with a school counselor about the potential problems facing non-graduates, the bill states.

Students over the age of 18 may choose to withdraw or drop out of school without written permission from a parent.

While school districts throughout Kentucky currently have the choice to change policy immediately like Carroll County, other school districts have the option of waiting to implement the Graduation Bill like Trimble County to research changes. The Kentucky Department of Education expects the new law to be completely phased into all school districts by the 2017-2018 school year, spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said.

Supporters of the bill cited the economic and social benefits to society for high school graduates as major reasons for encouraging an increase in the state's dropout age. Studies show high school graduates often live longer and earn higher wages during their lifetimes, a release from the governor's office stated. Studies also show that high school graduates are less likely to commit crimes or rely on government assistance and services.

"The days of dropping out of high school and expecting a dependable, well-paying job are long gone," Beshear said. "This bill will not only keep students on track for a high school diploma, but it will ensure we have a better-trained, better-prepared workforce, which will pay off for our state for decades to come."