Senate Ed advances dual-credit bill

After a long back-and-forth-debate Tuesday, members of the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill designed to help high school students pay for advanced dual credit courses.

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Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

Senate Bill 1233, pushed by Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, would create a program where the state pays up to $200 for juniors to take dual credit or professional technical courses and $400 for seniors to do the same.

The bill caps the amount the state kicks in at 75 percent of the cost of credits.

Thayn said the bill is designed to help achieve the state’s goal of having 60 percent of young adults earn a postsecondary degree or certificate by making college courses more affordable and obtainable.

“It opens up (higher education opportunities for) the middle section of kids who can’t afford it,” Thayn said. “I don’t know how we can accomplish the go-on goals without some kind of bill like this.”

Committee members wrestled over the $3 million annual cost of the bill – money which Gov. Butch Otter did not allocate in his 2014-15 budget request.

Members of three influential education groups — the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators — expressed concern about where the money would come from.

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“All three (organizations) identified restoring discretionary funding (often referred to as operations funding) as our main priority and are concerned this bill conflicts with that goal,” said Jessica Harrison, the ISBA’s director of policy and government affairs.

Thayn, who also sits on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said his intention is that new money would be used to pay for the dual credit program and that money targeted for reversing recession-era cuts to districts’ operations funding would not be affected.

Harrison said the three education groups would likely support the bill if guarantees were made about protecting money for operations funding.

Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, pointed out that the education committee has no say in how money is appropriated — that task falls to JFAC.

Two district superintendents — New Plymouth’s Ryan Kerby and Notus’ Craig Woods — traveled to the Statehouse to testify in support of the bill.

Both said financial assistance has helped their students obtain and pay for college courses while in high school and go on after graduation.

“Once they start taking classes now, all of a sudden they have 16, 18 to 20 credits and are prepared for college and have the confidence and mindset… work ethic, and study skills,” said Kerby, a legislative candidate this year. “They can go to school and make it.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

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