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A bill awaiting a signature from Gov. Steve Beshear could open up the opportunities for high school students to graduate early.
Senate Bill 61, which passed both houses of the General Assembly and was delivered Tuesday to Beshear, creates a structure for students to complete necessary credits and finish high school in less than four years.
Hardin County Schools and Elizabethtown Independent Schools have policies that occasionally allow early graduation, but this bill, if it became law, likely would necessitate changes in the districts and would open the early exit option to more students.
If the bill becomes law, early graduation would become an option in the 2014-2015 school year. Students interested in the option would declare that intention before their freshman year. To qualify, they would need to meet benchmark scores on end-of-course exams, meet the graduation requirements set by the Kentucky Department of Education and meet benchmark scores on the ACT.
Upon early graduation, the students would qualify for an Early Graduation Scholarship Certificate, which would be funded by half of the money the school receives for the student from the state.
According to administrators, both local districts could be impacted at the middle school level, because the bill encourages schools to offer the high school credits of English I and Algebra I, so students can start the early graduation track. This would require both districts to consider how they would make that possible for middle school students.
Currently, students at either district would need approval from the principal and the board to graduate early, and that generally only occurs in unusual cases, according to HCS and EIS administrators.
With this possible new opportunity, Kelli Bush, EIS assistant superintendent for instruction, expects advanced students looking for rigorous course work and students interested in entering the workforce could be interested in leaving high school early.
“I think you’ll have a little bit of everything,” Bush said.
Bush said she expected the number of students interested in the option to be limited, but the number could grow as more students become familiar with the opportunity. Bobby Lewis, HCS superintendent for student services, agreed.
“We’re not sure who is going to want to participate in this process,” Lewis said, given that the students would need to declare their intention so early and they would graduate at a young age.
The Kentucky School Board Association supports the bill because of the opportunity it gives to students, board spokesman Brad Hughes said.
Hughes said some district administrators don’t support public school funding going to postsecondary education. Lewis said it could create issues if a school is staffed based on a certain number of students but ends up losing some of those students throughout the school year.
Hughes said some are uncomfortable with language in the bill that states districts can’t impose graduation requirements that would prohibit students from pursuing early graduation.
Mark Kopp, HCS associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said some high schools have requirements beyond the obligatory 22 credits, and he doesn’t know how that would be affected if the bill were passed.
Hughes said the school board association disagrees with that portion of the bill, but felt it wasn’t enough of an issue to not support the bill as a whole.
If the bill becomes law, the association will draft language districts can adopt as policy to steer them through the new option for students.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.