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December 22, 2014

A step forward for Alabama’s future

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Posted: Monday, February 17, 2014 9:09 pm

Alabama’s House of Representatives passed a dual enrollment bill last week 100-0 — a noteworthy accomplishment that makes you think the other side didn’t show up. Actually there were five representatives who, for one reason or another, did not vote, but in a rare show of unity both Democrats and Republicans in Montgomery wanted this bill to pass.

The governor had already requested funding for dual enrollment in the Education Trust Fund Budget he recommended. A new program, the original request was for $20 million. The governor recommended $6 million.

The bill still has to pass the Senate before going to the governor’s desk, but the slam dunk from the House suggests it has a good chance of making it through.

The bill would create up to $10 million in scholarships funded by donations, with donors getting up to a 50 percent tax credit. It also allows up to 80 percent of the funds to be directed by the donor to specific programs and to specific two-year schools.

The intent of the bill seems to be consistent with the State Department of Education’s Plan 2020, with its goal of producing “College and Career Ready” graduates.

The dual enrollment bill would enable high school students to graduate ready for good-paying skills such as welding and aircraft engine repair, and to potentially finish school with a high school diploma, an associate’s degree, and a technical certificate in a marketable job skill all at the same time.

Dual enrollment is gaining in popularity nationwide. Programs are offered in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and the Education Commission of the States tracks policies and has noted many have been modified in recent years to improve delivery and quality.

Results suggest dual enrollment students who in dual enrollment programs are more likely to meet college readiness benchmarks, have higher grades in college and earn their college degrees. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said the dropout rate had dropped dramatically in other states.

Since the program relies on donations, there’s no guarantee the $10 million will be reached. That number was chosen to limit the amount of money the Education Trust Fund could lose. The 50 percent tax credit would come off the top of money earmarked for education. Still, the bill would provide two dollars for education for each dollar lost. The main difference would be that the donor could be directing 80 percent of those dollars, instead of elected officials.

Five million dollars is a lot of money. But consider that our state’s proposed education budged for 2014-2015 is $5.991 billion. Billion with a ‘B’. Five million is less than a tenth of one percent.

Still there have been some concerns expressed about the bill.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford said the $5 million allocated for liability coverage for teachers could be removed from the budget. He argues first that teachers already have liability coverage either through their union or local school boards, or both, and second that another bill that just passed the House would provide statutory immunity for teachers and state employees while performing their jobs. If that bill becomes law, there would be no need for additional liability coverage.

The AEA has also expressed concerns were also raised about the provision allowing donors to direct where the funds are spent, raising concerns about fairness and equity in the distribution of state tax money. Some programs could boom while others go lacking, creating an uneven opportunity for training in different parts of the state.

Those are valid concerns, and we suspect we haven’t heard the last of them.

But we think the House Democrats made the right choice in voting for the bill in spite of those concerns. If the proposal becomes law, and we think it should, there will still be opportunities for fine-tuning its provisions in the future if needed.

The bottom line: with this bill House members voted for a brighter future for a number of Alabama’s high school students.

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