Districts fifth-year programs OK, for now

SB 322 dies in committee

SALEM — A bill that would have phased out fifth-year programs in school districts throughout the state — including three in Polk County — will not move forward.

Thursday the Oregon Senate Committee on Education decided to carry the bill forward, essentially killing the bill. While the legislation is dead, that doesn’t mean the issue behind it is: using State School Fund money to pay for college courses.

Committee Chairman Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) said he will be watching progress on the topic closely.

“It is, in my opinion, not sustainable,” he said of the current funding mechanism. “I’m committed to finding the avenue for a solution to this.”

Dallas, Central and Falls City all have fifth-year programs of various sizes.

The programs have students defer receiving a standard high school diploma in order to pursue an advanced diploma and attend classes at a community college. Because they are still high school students, the State School Fund pays for the courses.

When the legislation was introduced, school officials in the three districts in Polk County and elsewhere in Oregon were concerned the opportunities offered students through fifth-year programs would end due to the source of the funding.

Students and school district administrators from high schools across the state and their community college partners offered hours of testimony against the bill at a public hearing on March 19.

Now, it appears legislators and school officials from districts with the programs will have time to work together on a proposal to keep them.

“As I have told the very vocal people in my district who feel very strongly about SB 322, I have not known anybody to be more of a champion for higher education access than (bill sponsor) Sen. (Mark) Hass, and I recognize the motivations behind that bill,” said Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), who also sits on the committee.

“I think the fifth-year programs in our districts are really serving kids really well. We have seen some great outcomes. I’m very interested in finding a way to continue them.”

She said the schools in her district, including Corvallis and Albany, which offer fifth-year programs are willing to help hash out new legislation that protects the State School Fund and fifth-year offerings.

“They have committed … to begin discussions about this issue immediately, even before the session is over, to start this conversation to come back with a recommendation for the February session to look at how do we build on what’s there in a way that is sustainable,” Gesler said during Thursday’s bill work session. “I want to say thank you for that accommodation in giving us some time to do that.”

Brian Green, the Dallas High School assistant principal who oversees DHS’ fifth-year program, Extended Campus, said the district would like to be involved in those discussions, as well.

In the meantime, though, Green said he’s happy to be able tell students there will be no changes in the program, at least for now.

“We can say that next year’s Extended Campus will be business as usual,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of relieved families.”

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