Gelser bill addresses fifth-year high school programs
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
School districts have increased graduation rates at some Oregon high schools using what are called “fifth-year” high school programs. K-12 school districts retain students for an additional year after they have met all graduation qualifications. The students attend higher education, in most cases community college, while retaining ties to the local K-12 district for a fifth year of high school. For students who are the first in their families to attend college or face other challenges, this may both motivate them to graduate from high school and facilitate a smooth college transition.
The funding for this fifth year currently comes from the State School Fund, with the same per-pupil funding and weights as for all other K-12 students. In effect these programs spread the K-12 dollars more thinly over a larger school population, to pay for a year of higher education. Up until now the number of students in such programs has been relatively small, but if every Oregon high school provided this option it would significantly dilute the per-pupil funding for all students.
The Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1537, sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, which creates a “post-graduate scholars” program. If passed, the bill would continue to provide fifth-year programs while winnowing the number of qualifying students to only those who need services the most. The bill limits the students who qualify to those who have satisfied diploma requirements, have filled out the federal financial aid form known as a FAFSA and are not eligible for the Oregon Promise or for a federal grant that covers tuition and fees. Districts will receive a declining weight for each student each year: full funding in 2016-17, .85 in 2017-18 and .75 in 2018-19. Districts may not claim additional weights in the State School Fund, such as poverty, ELL or special education.
The restrictions will significantly limit the number of students eligible for funding while ensuring service to those students who need it most. The bill requires that data be gathered on students served, costs and program efficacy. The Oregon Department of Education must make a report to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2018, including a recommendation to establish a sustainable program funding mechanism. If the Legislature takes no action by June 1, 2021, the system will revert to its current state, covering all students in districts that choose to have fifth-year programs.
OSBA discussed this bill at our Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) meeting in January. OSBA Board and LPC members discussed the tradeoffs between continuation of a successful program and potential impacts on overall K-12 school funding. With a two-year window to analyze the program, the Legislature will be able to make more informed data-based decisions in 2019. The consensus of the Board and LPC discussions was that this bill strikes a balance between keeping these programs open while minimizing funding dilution, and ending all programs and thus harming students who don’t have other options. OSBA will work diligently with the Legislature to identify a long-term funding solution that does not dilute K-12 resources and addresses the concerns of our members on varying sides of this issue.