Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

March 4, 2014

Bill would let high school kids graduate a year early

TAHLEQUAH — Last week, a bill providing scholarship money for students who graduate high school early cleared the Oklahoma House Appropriation and Budget Committee and is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 2535, by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, said the legislation will provide state scholarship funds for students who graduate after completing their junior year of high school.

“Many students have completed all but a couple of their requirements by their senior year,” said Cox. “Therefore, they take a couple of classes when they are seniors and are out of school before noon. This bill encourages those students to complete their graduation requirements by the end of their third year of high school.”

According to Cox, students who meet the requirements will receive a state scholarship equal to 80 percent of the funds the state would have spent on them for their junior year, and the student’s school district retains the other 20 percent. Based on last year’s figures, the scholarship would amount to $2,435.60.

“While $2,435.60 is not a lot of money, it is different than most scholarships in that it allows it to be spent on ‘fees,’” said Cox. “Most scholarships can only be used for room, board, books and tuition. Meanwhile, the student is left to come up with the money to cover the ‘fees’ on their college bill, which now can be a very significant expense.”

The scholarship is restricted to in-state use at an Oklahoma college or university, or a post-secondary vocational-technical program, as well as a private institution of learning in Oklahoma.

“This is just another carrot, although small, to encourage Oklahoma students to increase their education level,” said Cox. “That is so important to the future of our state. The higher the education level of a person, the less likely he is to have an addiction to tobacco or drugs, be in prison, or have children in foster care – all of which costs our state and taxpayers a huge sum of money.”

Cox believes the proposal is good for both students and school districts, as the district will be keeping 20 percent of the funding, even though the student is not enrolled.

“This money will help the school district better fund serving the students they do have,” said Cox.

Tahlequah Education Association Vice President Chuck Pack, who is also a National Board Certified teacher, said that while he appreciates the 20 percent remaining in the school districts, education is still dramatically underfunded.

“Of course, I would love for my children to graduate early and take advantage of scholarships, but think about how big that scholarship would be if education weren’t being funded at the rate is was in 2008,” said Pack

 “I think it’s great; if passed, the recipients wil be able to apply the funds to fees, but again, individual districts are hurting.”

Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, serves on the House Appropriation and Budget Committee, and he voted for the measure.

“House Bill 2535, by Rep. Doug Cox, establishing the Oklahoma Early College Scholarship Program, passed the House Appropriation and Budget Committee with a vote of 20-1 this past Wednesday,” said Brown.

“This bill offers these dedicated students an additional incentive to pursue higher education.”

Cox said the bill’s critics say the state already has the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, and that students who are smart enough to finish after their junior year will probably qualify for other scholarships.

“Again, however, this scholarship can be used to cover the fees at the school which most scholarship to not allow,” said Cox.

 “This program is in place in four or five other states and has been proved to be success.”

Cox credits Terry Jones, a retired Grove pharmacist and school board member, for bringing the proposal to Oklahoma.

The Daily Press polled its online readers, explaining legislation has been introduced to allow a child to graduate his junior year if he has the proper credits. The Press asked readers to choose the option that most closely mirrors their opinions.

Of 73 respondents, 63 percent, or 46 voters, said yes, students who qualify should be allowed to graduate early, regardless of circumstances. Fifteen percent, or 11 voters, said yes, but only if the money saved can be used somehow to help the child either with college or trade school tuition. Twelve percent, or nine respondents, said no, because a child needs a well-rounded experience the 12 years would bring. Five percent, or four voters, were undecided. Three percent, or two respondents, said no, because it might mean a loss of funding for that particular school. One percent, or one voter, said no, because no matter what, the “savings” would be wasted.

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