New bill to limit fifth-year programs

Law will track enrollment costs

DALLAS — A bill written to allow school districts to retain fifth-year programs for students not eligible for other community college opportunities is working its way through the Oregon Senate.

The Senate Interim Committee on Education sent Senate Bill 1537 for a floor vote following a work session on Feb. 10. SB 1537 would allow Dallas, Central and Falls City’s partnership with Chemeketa Community College to continue, but just for those students who can’t participate in the Oregon Promise program.

Oregon Promise students need to have a cumulative grade-point average of 2.5 in high school, have accepted all federal grants or scholarships to pay for tuition and pay $50 per term as a co-payment.

Through the program, the state has set aside $10 million to provide grants of at least $1,000 to cover any remaining costs, including books, transportation and other expenses.

In the 2015 legislative session, Oregon Promise was introduced as a replacement for fifth-year programs developed by 26 school districts across the state that used K-12 state school money to pay for costs.

Senate Bill 322 was introduced to phase out those programs, but stalled after outcry from students, parents and school officials touting the benefits for students in smaller or rural districts.

Instead, a committee was formed to find a compromise that would allow the programs to continue but reduce the financial impact to the state’s K-12 fund. SB 1537 is that compromise.

Brian Green, the administrator of Dallas’ fifth-year program Extended Campus, served on the committee. His most pressing concern was exclusion of students who didn’t meet the GPA requirement.

“In looking at the data, I went back five years to see the impact that Oregon Promise would have on our Extended Campus, and in the five years, there were 97 students who would not have been able to participate,” Green said.

That group included students who stumbled out of the gate in their freshman or sophomore years, but finished high school strong.

He added many of those 97 students performed better in college than they did at DHS.

If passed, SB 1537 will allow those students to continue to attend college through Extended Campus and similar opportunities in other districts.

In addition, it requires the High Education Coordinating Commission to track participation and the amount of K-12 money spent and report those numbers to the Senate education committee in 2018. Part of the purpose of that report is to find other possible funding mechanisms.

The bill still faced opposition in the education committee, namely from Sen. Mark Hass, whose chief concern is the use of K-12 funding to pay for college.

While he said he supports the concept of the fifth year, he called the funding strategy “sleight of hand” on the part of schools who use it.

“Let’s put it in its own fund and fund it that way,” he said during a hearing on the bill this month. “That is the straight forward and honest way to do it.”

Sen. Sara Gelser, a strong proponent of the bill, said she doesn’t believe use of state school fund is inappropriate — as opponents have charged — for the group of students who would be served through the new “Post-graduate Scholar” program.

Gelser, Green and others who testified in favor of the legislation say the opportunity to attend community college is an incentive to graduate.

“I would argue that is always appropriate to use state school fund for the purpose of increasing a high school graduation rate,” she said in the hearing on the bill.

“What we are creating is a carrot to keep kids in school districts, to graduate from high school that otherwise would leave.”

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