Terrell Davis pictures a future where students currently at risk of falling through cracks instead walk across a graduation stage with both a high school diploma and 60 hours of college credit.
Davis, executive director of public affairs for Wichita Public Schools, said the launch this year of the district's Early College Academy will change the trajectory of 50 students.
These students may come from low-income families, and current state law blocks public schools from paying for higher education classes. Davis said the district is raising funds to help offset tuition costs, but he encouraged members of a Senate panel on Monday to support legislation that would allow schools to use general fund dollars on programs like the one in Wichita.
"These are students who are in the middle," Davis said. "They have potential, but they could just as easily fall through the cracks. They sit in classrooms making anywhere from a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA. They get in trouble from time to time — not because they are bad kids but because they are bored."
The district wants to add 50 students for every incoming class. Davis said students pay $50 per credit hour, which totals $3,000 per year, through an agreement with Friends University.
The proposed legislation would allow local school boards to decide how much money to dedicate to college tuition or technical courses and which students are eligible to receive assistance.
Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said the bill would provide "a critical access path" for students to take college classes while in high school.
A local school district, she said, "is best equipped to understand the student's individual financial situation and make decisions based on those needs."
Mark Tallman, associate executive director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said school officials across the state would prefer state-level funding for higher education opportunities. Still, he said, they support the proposed legislation as a means of providing immediate assistance.
"We know Kansas faces a growing skills gap between current educational levels and requirements of the Kansas economy," Tallman said. "Projections are that this gap will worsen if we do not increase the number of students who both complete high school and earn a second credential, whether technical certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree or higher."
Meanwhile, the House Commerce Committee passed a bill that would appropriate $10 million toward scholarships for Kansans enrolled in two-year associate degree or technical-degree programs.
The bill would create the Kansas Promise Scholarship Act, administered by the Kansas Board of Regents. The scholarships would be available to full-time Kansas residents in public and private college programs. The financial aid would be available to any student who graduated from high school within 12 months of applying for the program.
"I like this a lot and I like the core idea that we’re encouraging folks to stay here in Kansas after they complete their education,” said Rep. Bradley Ralph, R-Dodge City.
Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, proposed an amendment specifying $10 million each year toward the scholarship fund and established a five-year limit on the program. The Board of Regents would provide an annual evaluation of the program to the Senate and House education committees. The Legislature would review the initiative in five years to determine whether to continue.
"We put these programs in place and then sometimes they never get looked at again," Hoffman said. "I believe that we should have a sunset on this so that it would be looked at in the future."