Gov. John Bel Edwards is pushing for a sweeping change in public high schools by allowing every junior and senior to take two college courses, free of charge and starting next year.
"It's a chance for students to get real college experience before they get there," Edwards said in his opening address to the Legislature on April 8.
The changes are spelled out in legislation — Senate Bill 194 — that is expected to undergo significant changes amid continuing talks.
Whether the overhaul wins final approval by June 6 depends on all the parties reaching a nearly historic agreement among high schools, the state Board of Regents, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, two- and four-year colleges, superintendents and school board members statewide.
"I understand there is heartburn," said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who has been spearheading the effort for weeks. "But we can at least get to a consensus on some of this work."
After a timeout in August, the Louisiana Board of Regents is set Monday to consider tightening the rules on how high school students can earn …
The program is called dual enrollment, which allows high schools students to earn both high school and college credit.
But the current setup is plagued by a wide range of problems and is widely regarded as under-performing.
The courses are viewed by some as reserved for well-to-do students headed for college anyway.
It seems like a no brainer — high school students earning up to a year of college credit, which means big savings for students, families and t…
Access to the classes varies from district to district, and even school to school. Some students pay nothing. Some pay $250 for a course.
Students in cities, and those close to two- or four-year schools, have easier access than those in rural areas. Those pursuing industry credentials often feel left out.
Less than 1 in 4 high school students take a course at all, even at a time when less than half of high school seniors take a full course load.
Black students make up nearly half of the high school population but only one-fifth of those in dual enrollment.
Although the number of public high school students taking college courses is up 60 percent, barely 1 in 5 of those enrolled are black students.
"We want to level the playing field for students," Reed said.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, made the same point.
"It is not a level playing field," Morrish said. "There are those that don't know about all the opportunities."
The governor wants to set up a "framework" that paves the way for every qualified high school junior and senior — around 90,000 students — to take two college courses each year starting in fall 2020.
The state Board of Regents, BESE and the state Department of Education are supposed to coordinate the overhaul.
Under the draft bill, they are to oversee the training of teachers — a longtime stumbling block — course content, eligibility, pricing, the development of a dual enrollment website and other issues.
"We are going to generate some sort of clearinghouse, if you will, for all the programs," Morrish said.
However, the legislation is expected to undergo heavy revisions before the first debate, including during a gathering of superintendents in Ruston on Tuesday.
"It is an extremely fluid process that we are going through," Morrish said.
Said Donald Songy, the governor's education policy adviser, "It is not something you can do overnight."
About 23% of eligible students were taking dual enrollment classes during the last snapshot, officials said.
The Louisiana Board of Regents on Monday approved new rules governing how high school students earn college credit.
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including $17.5 million through a program called supplemental course allocation and parts of $9.5 million in another fund can be used for dual enrollment, according to the state Department of Education.
What it would cost to ensure that every high school junior and senior could take two college classes is unclear, as well as where the money will come from.
"The financing is always a challenge," Reed said.
Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and a key figure in the talks, said financing is uneven. "It varies from school district to school district," Faulk said.
"You have some that are putting up enormous amounts of money, some of them are limited in their resources," he added.
Some high schools have pricing and other arrangements with two- and four-year colleges.
Said Reed, "The problem is some kids know about it and they are participating; some kids know about it but cannot afford it because if is out of pocket."
"Right now the pricing is all over the place," she said.
Faulk said the key to making the governor's proposal reality, and winning legislative approval, is getting buy-in from all the parties.
"You have to craft something, get people's feedback on that and fine-tune it a little before actually implementing it," he said.
Former state Rep. Chris Broadwater, vice president of workforce policy for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, is a longtime proponent of dual enrollment.
Broadwater said Edwards' plan has the potential to spur more interest in college, like what happened when Louisiana started requiring all high school seniors to take the ACT, which measures college readiness.
"What is often found is that it becomes the chance for students who historically have never believed college was an option for them to have a chance to see that they are perfectly capable of succeeding in post-secondary education," Broadwater said.
Broadwater, a former member of the House Education Committee when he served in the Legislature for seven years, said he thinks the overhaul can win approval during the eight-week session.
"And it is important enough that it is worth the effort in order to get it done on that time frame," he said.