Wednesday, March 18, 2015
POLK COUNTY — Fifth-year programs at Dallas, Central and Falls City — and other districts throughout the state — appear to be on the chopping block if a bill slated for a public hearing Thursday in the Oregon Senate Committee on Education is approved.
Senate Bill 322 as currently written would create a funding formula for fifth-year programs, but bill sponsor Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) said that language will be replaced Thursday with an amendment that will phase out the programs by 2017.
Dallas’ version of the fifth-year program, Extended Campus, has students defer receiving their diplomas even though they have met all graduation requirements.
Because they are still enrolled in high school, the state pays for their education and that money is used for classes at Chemeketa Community College. Programs at Falls City and Central work similarly.
Hass said the idea behind the phase out is to replace fifth-year programs with a model offering free community college to all students earning a high school diploma.
He said the benefit of that is the funding source — about 75 percent of the funding would come from the federal government, mostly through Pell Grants.
The state would offer the balance to students, minus $50 per class they would have to pay. That concept is included in Senate Bill 81, which is also before the education committee.
Hass said fifth-year programs are “robbing” the state’s K-12 fund to pay for college classes, but understands why districts have provided these opportunities.
“If I were a superintendent of a small district, I would look at this, too,” Hass said. “Their hearts are in the right place.”
Hass said the districts who have the programs aren’t big enough to jeopardize K-12 funding, but if larger districts jumped on board, it would quickly become a problem.
Local school officials say the conversation shouldn’t be just about dollars and cents.
“I don’t see this as a financial issue,” said Central Superintendent Buzz Brazeau. “Instead of talking about what is best for kids, we are talking about money.”
Brazeau said the programs — Central has 16 students in its first-year program — provide a “bridge” to college for students who would struggle with the adjustment from high school.
“I think there are a lot of kids that don’t make it (through college),” Brazeau said. “A fifth-year program gives them knowledge they can do it.”
Dallas’ program, which has enrolled 472 students since 2005-06, has classes specifically designed to help students make that transition. DHS Assistant Principal Brian Green, who oversees the program, said the direct result of that is the program’s nearly 80 percent retention rate beyond the first year.
“There would be kids who will not have access to college if Extended Campus goes away,” Green said. “This is not about money, it’s about kids.”
Green also is concerned about taking the programs away without a guarantee that Senate Bill 81 will be approved.
Falls City Superintendent Jack Thompson said he understands the concerns about funding.
But he argues that, for small districts, a fifth-year program is a way to offer students opportunities that they would have in larger schools, as well has encourage students to look at college as an option.
“The fifth-year program for small schools has been fabulous,” Thompson said. “It has allowed us to get kids to college who wouldn’t have gone to college.”