FRANKFORT — Two hallmarks of our Senate in recent years have been our dedication to improving opportunities for both our children and our veterans. We continued on that path of opportunity this week with legislation to give both groups a better chance to improve their own lot in life.
Senate Bill 67 is the latest act of our chamber to motivate high school students to take rigorous coursework that will prepare them for college and beyond. Our current State curriculum allows ample opportunity for students to take electives that appeal to their interests, but it also allows them to get their tough courses out of the way early and coast during their senior year, when they should be preparing themselves for life after high school. SB 67 creates a statewide program to encourage interested students to graduate from high school early, rather than simply biding their time.
Under our plan, students interested in early graduation could finish with 18 courses, rather than the 22 currently required. The number of electives would be reduced, but their core courses would actually increase from 15 to 16, to include two years of a foreign language along with biology, chemistry, and other traditional pre-college courses. To help them prepare for the future, two of their courses would also have to be Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, which can themselves be used for college credit with good scores on the final exams. To further make sure that only students academically ready to take on the rigor of this program take part, a 3.2 GPA and benchmark scores on the ACT math and English sections would be required to graduate early.
To help students get a head start on this program, every school district would offer English I and Algebra I to eighth grade students interested in taking part in the early graduation program, whether by offering them at the middle school itself or by making other arrangements.
The incentives are tremendous for the students. Not only can they pursue college coursework that interests and challenges them, but they can get money to help them pay for college. Every year, the State sends local school districts money based on their number of students. For students graduating early through this program, they could take that State money — around $2500 or so — and apply it toward their first year of tuition at any Kentucky two- or four-year college. In addition, the KEES scholarship money earned by students in their abbreviated high school career would be increased to reflect a four-year career so they are not punished for their accelerated courseload.
Veterans are another group that offer so much potential. One way our State can utilize their talents and work ethic is to hire them and, in past sessions, we have passed legislation toward that goal. Unfortunately, our repeated efforts to pass additional legislation to provide more hiring assistance have stalled in recent years. Just three weeks ago, I wrote about SB 29, which would give veterans and their family members who qualify for 5-10 preference points on State employment applications a guaranteed interview for the positions they seek. This past week, rather than wait on the House to concur with our legislation, we passed the House’s version, HB 75. Like our own bill, HB 75 also expands and clarifies who is eligible for preference points and interview guarantees. For those cases where more than five people qualify for veterans preference (and we hope veterans and their families take every opportunity to apply), at least five would be guaranteed an interview.
Another boost to veterans is HB 14, which would give veterans who are completely disabled because of their service, three free nights at any State park lodge. This is a win-win for our State. Our veterans can enjoy the scenic beauty of the Commonwealth, and the local economy will benefit from the other money that veterans and their families spend on food, fuel, and other purchases.
I am especially proud that these two veterans’ bills will be the first non-emergency pieces of legislation to cross the Governor’s desk in 2010. They show the high priority we have placed on our veterans and their families.