Gov. John Bel Edwards' bid to ensure that public high school juniors and seniors have access to two courses for college credit without charge was shelved in favor of task force to study the issue, including how to pay for the classes.
Edwards signed the measure, Senate Bill 243, on Thursday, about four hours before the two-month session ended.
The plan sets up a 12-member task force that will study a wide range of issues around the classes – called dual enrollment – and how current problems can be addressed, including uneven access among students statewide.
But the legislation does not include the most notable part of Edwards' proposal – free classes for both high school and college credit starting next year.
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,…
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, sponsor of the bill, said how to finance the classes was one of the impediments.
"But the big issue is we did not have the framework in place," said Morrish, who attended the bill-signing ceremony. "That is the most important piece."
In his post-session press conference, Edwards said he thinks his plan will eventually become reality.
"We think we can do that," he said. "I am very optimistic about it."
Louisiana's current dual enrollment setup is plagued by a variety of problems.
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.
Only about one in four public high school student takes a class for college credit, and black students are vastly under-represented compared to their enrollment.
The classes cost up to $250.
Critics contend students in rural areas suffer from a lack of access.
Others say the courses are mostly available to students from well-to-do families.
"This will create a level playing field for all," Morrish said.
The state has about 90,000 high school juniors and seniors.
The Louisiana Board of Regents on Monday approved new rules governing how high school students earn college credit.
Students that take advantage of the classes, as well as Advanced Placement exams for college credit, can earn the equivalent of multiple semesters before they step on campus.
Striking a compromise during the two-month session was always seen as a tall order, especially since doing so requires buy-in from superintendents, public schools, two- and four-year colleges and universities and the state Board of Regents.
Former state Rep. Chris Broadwater, who is vice-president for workforce policies for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said offering qualified juniors and seniors two dual enrollment courses free of charge is still doable.
"And I think folks with the K-12 schools and folks in higher education want to see it happen," said Broadwater, a longtime personal friend of Edwards who attended the bill signing.
"But just because we all want the same thing doesn't mean it is easy," said Broadwater, a former key member of the House Education Committee.
Under the bill, the task force will study funding sources and needs, course content requirements and instructor and student qualifications.
Members will include the governor's office, commissioner of higher education, state superintendent of education, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association and the executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
The panel is required to hold its first meeting by Aug. 1.
A report will be due to the House and Senate education committees by Oct. 1, 2020.
"There is a lot of legwork that still needs to be done to come up with a common pricing," Broadwater said.
"It has to work financially both for school districts as well as higher education institutions," he added.
Broadwater called the bill a major step forward.
"I think the task force is going to better crystalize what needs to be done so that we can succeed next year," he said.