FRANKFORT — High school students who complete required course work for graduation before their junior or senior years could enroll in college early and get state funding to help with tuition under a plan proposed by Senate Republicans.
The bill also would reduce the 22 minimum credit hours for high school graduation to as low as 16, while candidates for early graduation would have to maintain a 2.8 grade-point average to go to a two-year college or 3.2 GPA to go to a four-year university in Kentucky.
Students going on to a four-year university also would have to take at least two Advanced Placement classes, the bill says.
And to help students pay tuition, money would be transferred from the state's main primary and secondary education funding formula into a special early graduation trust fund. But it would be calculated in a way that school districts wouldn't lose money, said Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray.
Winters, the Senate Education Committee chairman, filed the bill late Tuesday and will give the measure its first vetting in a committee meeting Thursday.
The proposed legislation could radically change the transition from high school to college, especially for motivated students who supplement their school year with summer classes or dual enrollment courses at local colleges.
"Not only would it be a financial incentive, but if they have worked aggressively to graduate early like this ... then it would be a strong encouragement for them to go on to a Kentucky university," Winters said.
He said he expects support from school officials and universities.
Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway and the chairman of the House Education Committee, said he was briefed on an early draft of the bill but said he wanted to reserve comment until seeing the final draft. He said some education officials might have concerns with dropping graduation requirements and potentially steering money out of the state schools' main funding mechanism, the Support Excellent Education in Kentucky, or SEEK formula.
One of the key measures of the formula is how many students attend school in the districts.
The way this bill would work is that a student who graduates early and would otherwise be a junior or senior in high school would still be counted in a district's totals. Then roughly the amount of money the state spends on each pupil would be transferred into a special scholarship fund for early graduates.
This year, the average is $8,839, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Department of Education.
"What it's doing is making available funds that would have helped a school district pay for (that student's) senior year and make it available for a student to use toward tuition costs at a community or technical college or one of the state's four-year institutions," Winters said.
The plan would allow the student to use that tuition help at a private or public university in the state, Winters said.
It's unclear how many students might qualify for this or how much it would cost the state, said Sen. Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, although he added it would likely "be minimal."
The concept isn't new. Countries across the globe, especially in Europe, have instituted similar systems. Last fall, New Hampshire began wading toward a pilot program that would allow high school students 16 or older to take a special exam for early college admission.
Right now, a Kentucky student must be at least 16 to leave the system and must complete at least 22 credits, including four in English and three each in math, science and social studies. Five of the credits are electives.
Under the proposal, 16 credits would be required for high school graduation: four in English, three in math and social studies, two in science, two in foreign language, one in the arts and a half each in health and physical education.
"I was in a meeting the other day with the governor and the governor said, 'We've got to think differently about what we're doing in high schools and give kids a reason to get out of high school earlier,'" Kelly said.
High school students have several options already to get a jump-start on college, including Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment programs.