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Senate passes fast-track graduation bill

FRANKFORT — A reformatted bill that would allow students to graduate from high school early flew out of the Senate on Tuesday, but not without some spirited discussion about the effects it would have on students.

Senate Bill 3 would allow students to fast-track their high school academics into three years and get about $8,000 — roughly the amount the state spends per pupil each year — to pay for a year of college.

Students could graduate with 15 credits and a 3.0 grade-point average. Four credits must be in English, three each in math and social studies, two each in science and foreign language and a half credit each for health and physical education.

An initial draft of the proposal by Sen. Ken Winters, R-Murray, would have created a two-tier system in which students with a better-than-B average and 16 credit hours could qualify to graduate early to attend private or public four-year universities in Kentucky. Students with a 2.8 GPA and at least 13 credits would qualify to leave high school early to go to a two-year technical school.

Winters said he opted to eliminate the different tracks after objections last week by Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-Louisville, among others.

Currently, the Kentucky Department of Education requires 22 credits for graduation, of which five are electives such as art and music.

"If students happen to take a (high-school level) course in middle school or double up on core classes in high school, many are going to want to take an art or music course anyway and still graduate early," Winters said Tuesday.

But the change still did not satisfy Shaughnessy, one of 12 senators to oppose the measure. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are lowering standards," he said on the Senate floor.

He pointed out that 50 percent of high school graduates currently require remedial work in college. "What makes us think kids coming out with 15 credits are going to do any better?"

Winters countered that the measure would raise standards because of the good grades students must attain.

The bill also got a vote of confidence from Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. "There's a Doogie Howser out there who might not want to play sports or be in band, but want to advance themselves as soon as possible," he said.

The bill now heads to the House, where it might receive a more skeptical eye.

Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway and House Education Committee chairman, said he has not yet discussed the bill with Winters.

"My hands are full with House bills right now, but I'll look at it," he said.