Bills would allow early high school graduation, school bus ads

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By Calen McKinney

Students who'd like a jump-start on college could soon be able to graduate and leave high school early.

A proposed bill creating an early graduation program has passed the Senate and is now at a House of Representatives education committee for its consideration.

Senate Bill 69, sponsored by Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, would require 18 credits in core academic areas for early graduation, including two college-level courses through the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs. The program would begin with the 2012-2013 school year.

"The basis of this bill is the effort to eliminate the 'lost senior year'" in which students coast through the final year of school without being challenged, Winters stated in a Legislative Research Commission news release.

In order to graduate early, students would also have to reach baseline ACT scores, benchmark scores on statewide end-of-year exams and maintain a 3.2 GPA.

Upon successful completion of those requirements, students would be able to use the state money their school district receives for their attendance, which would be about $2,500 each year, toward their tuition and fees at Kentucky two- and four-year colleges.

Winters stated that KEES money the student earns based on high school grades would be recalculated to reflect four years of grades rather than the actual time the student spent in high school.

"What we're trying to do is create a system that will allow students to move at an accelerated rate," Winters said.

Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, said he believes the program isn't as needed in the Taylor and Adair county area because courses at Campbellsville University and Lindsey Wilson College are readily available to high school students.

"We have access for our students to go ahead and take those classes at a very competitive, fair price," he said.

For that reason, Carney says he likely won't support the bill.

"I feel it's not needed in [my] district," he said. "We're in a win-win situation."

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said he voted in favor of the bill and believes it has a lot of merit.

For students to participate in the program, he said, they have to plan their studies carefully and declare their intentions in middle school.

Higdon said it has been estimated that about 500 students across the state would participate in the program if approved.

Officials at Taylor County School District say the early graduation program could have negative effects for them - the District would lose attendance money.

Superintendent Roger Cook says his schools already use performance-based learning to allow those who are learning beyond their current grade level to advance. He says Taylor County High School students can already graduate early and begin college courses through the District's virtual academy.

"That way we don't lose their [attendance] money," he said.

Carney said he believes the Senate will have difficulty getting the bill passed.

School administrators will have concerns about losing attendance dollars, he said, which are used to educate all students.

But Higdon says if only about 500 students participate in the program in the state's 167 districts, it's likely that only a couple will participate in each district, which won't cost a large amount.

"This is a very extraneous course of work," he said.

Cook said some TCHS students have finished their requirements during the midterm of their junior year, which allowed them to spend their remaining year and a half at TCHS working toward college courses at a cheaper rate per credit hour.

For districts that don't use performance-based learning, Cook says he believes their students could benefit from the program. But all schools, he said, would lose money.

TCHS Principal Charles Higdon Jr. said his students earning at least proficient scores in exit exams can advance to the next grade level of study.

"Students are not held back at all," he said.

Some students, he said, have left TCHS with 30 college hours already completed. However, Higdon said, he believes it's important that those students stay at high school for four years because of their age.

"They're still socially not as ready," he said. "It's so early in their lives ... they just need that guidance."

And soon, Higdon said, it's possible that middle school students who pass the exit exams could be taking high school classes.


Bus advertising

In a bill proposed by Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, commercial advertising could be allowed on the outside of school buses in Kentucky.

Allowing the advertising would be up to each district's school board, though ads with messages of alcohol and tobacco products and political campaigns would be prohibited.

"There's not sufficient funding to meet needs," Mills stated in a LRC news release. He also stated that he has heard that repeatedly since serving in the state House over the past year. "Nowhere have I heard this more than from our educators.

"I believe this bill is good for education, and I believe it's good for business in Kentucky."

A similar law in Texas, he said, is allowing the Dallas school system to collect more than $1 million in revenue this school year.

The bill states that advertising could only be placed on the outside of the bus below the windows from behind the front wheel to the front of the back wheel and behind the back wheel to the end of the bus. No ads could be placed on the front or rear of the bus, or anywhere that could interfere with the vehicle's reflective or warning equipment.

Cook said he believes the bill offers districts a creative way to make money.

"It's a good bill," he said. "As superintendent, it's my duty to look for money any way we can find it."

Taylor County has 33 buses, he said, which would create 66 potential advertising positions. If the bill passes, Cook said he would discuss the issue with Taylor County School Board members.

Carney said he has mixed feelings about the bill - and actually voted against it originally - but later changed his vote to a "yes."

He said he likes that school boards could use the advertisements to raise money for education but also that they don't have to offer the advertising.

Another concern, he said, could be deciding who gets the advertising if school boards receive more requests than space will allow.

Higdon said his first thoughts about the bill were, "Do we really want to do that?"

He says his feelings about the issue are lukewarm and he hasn't heard any comments from his constituents.

Higdon said the bill has been received in the Senate but not yet assigned to a committee for discussion. He said the issue will likely be assigned to the education or transportation committee, however, and he is a member of both.

To contact Carney or Higdon about any proposed legislation, residents can call Higdon at (270) 692-6945 or Carney at 465-5400. Those who want to leave a message for any legislator can call toll-free at (800) 372-7181.

Campbellsville Independent Superintendent Mike Deaton said he needs more information before he can form an opinion on the proposed bills.

"I really need to have more information about both proposals so as to determine whether either would be of benefit to our students and district," he wrote in an e-mailed response.

Campbellsville High School Principal Kirby Smith could not be reached before press time to comment about the program.