The devil is in the details

In his second State of the State address, Governor Strickland kept with his tradition of not distributing hard copies of the speech ahead of time and not providing supplemental information about his proposed programs and policies. (See Fordham's take on the governor's remarks here.) Those all-important details, still trickling out one week later, are setting up the battle lines over one of Strickland's most innovative education proposals.

"Seniors to Sophomores" would allow the state's high schoolers to spend their senior year on a public university campus at no cost. Ohio's current participation in early-college-access programs is weak-only 12,000 students participated last year, most were white females-and the mechanisms for tracking and evaluating such programs is even weaker (see here).

The governor has indicated that this program will not be a top-down mandate. It will be up to high schools and colleges-not state government-to decide how to implement it (see here). Parents and students, however, are rightly concerned about how the priorities of these institutions will weigh against their own interests. Look at how districts characterize charter schools and education-choice vouchers for an idea of how they might "resist" Seniors to Sophomores. Bottom line, districts will "lose" state funding for twelfth graders who bypass district schools for seats in colleges or universities.

Thus, for adults it all comes down to money. Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, whom Strickland charged with formulating the details of the program, nixed the need for new funding and indicated that the program will be funded much like other public school-choice options (think charter schools and STEM schools) where the state share of per-pupil funding is diverted from the home district to the school the young person attends. In this case, that school would be a state college or university. Superintendents and teacher unions are already clamoring about the loss of that funding and what it might mean for the youngsters left behind (see here and here).

Seniors to Sophomores has the potential to greatly expand and improve early-college access in the Buckeye State and open the doors to a college education for thousands more youngsters. It can also save cashed strapped families and their children some serious bucks (average yearly college tuition in Ohio is just over $6,500). For this to happen, however, high schools and colleges will need to work in tandem to become more nimble, flexible, and student-focused. This would undeniably be a good thing for the state's young people and their families.

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