State gears up for new education law

State education officials are gearing up to launch a marketing campaign showing families how high school students can earn $600 for college courses and tests.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a law creating the Fast Forward Program, which will help juniors and seniors attending public high schools and public charter schools cover up to 75 percent of the cost of dual-credit courses. Juniors can receive a maximum of $200 per year, while seniors can earn $400 a year in state funding.

The money is available to students once other grants, scholarships and incentives have been tapped. The main benefit, supporters say, is a jump start on college, allowing high school students to take postsecondary courses at more affordable rates.

Tom Luna
Tom Luna

The law went into effect July 1, the start of the new budget year, and the money can go toward dual credit courses, professional-technical exams or college-bearing exams.

With the 2014-15 school year on the horizon, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said principals, counselors and parents have expressed a lot of interest in the new program.

“What’s happened since the law passed is some districts already have been very aggressive in putting programs together to make sure they integrate current programs in order to take advantage of the opportunities,” Luna said.

To prepare schools for the new law, Luna’s office has placed advertisements in movie theaters and created an online fact sheet covering advanced opportunities. Later this summer, state officials will use social media tools, commercials, Pandora internet radio ads and community meetings to further spread the word.

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StevenThayn64
Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, carried the law through the Legislature.

Thayn said it represents a continuation of his efforts to focus on dual credit courses, mastery advancement programs, professional-technical courses and the accelerated 8 in 6 Program, which allows students to finish eight years of school in six years.

“I’m quite pleased, but a little disappointed it has gone as slow as it has (to get to this point), but the Students Come First repeal sucked some of the air out of the discussion,” Thayn said.

Fast Forward is designed to help the state meet its 60 percent go-on goal, and it aligns with a recommendation from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

Lawmakers estimated Fast Forward would cost $3 million in its first year. If more students take advantage, additional funding would come from the Public Education Stabilization Fund, the K-12 rainy-day account.

Although the $3 million price tag represents a modest portion of a K-12 budget of nearly $1.7 billion, Luna considers it a crucial element of his initiative to prepare more students for postsecondary education. Fast Forward follows the groundwork laid through Idaho Education Network broadband access, high school WiFi connections and state-funded SAT and PSAT college entrance exams, he said.

“It’s all focused on the go-on goal,” Luna said. “All of our efforts and every recommendation from every task force is focused on the ultimate goal – the 60 percent go-on goal.”

Once the school year begins, students will be able to access the My Idaho Courses online portal to sign up for courses and learn more about obtaining state funding to cover costs.