By Dave Donaldson
The House and Senate Education Committees today opened combined hearings on Governor Parnell’s performance scholarship program. It is one of the governor’s top priorities for this year’s session.
Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux reminded members of the possible results of increasing graduation rates in Alaska by raising school standards along with the communities’ expectations of their students. He called the scholarship program a “contract with kids” that would require a change in attitudes – by children and by communities.
I believe that this bill will significantly improve our graduation rate. If you’ve had children, you know it’s their attitude that determines their success. It’s what scares us about our kids, we’re always wondering what that attitude means. We have kids in some of the finest buildings in the country and we have some of the finest teachers and programs. And yet, our state graduation rate only increased five percent last year. We’re losing many of our students. It’s about attitude.
The proposed scholarship program would pay tuition expenses for students who take a required course of study, graduate with high grade averages and who pass a standardized test.
Supporting the proposal, James Caillier – of the Taylor Foundation in New Orleans — described the effects of a similar scholarship program in place in Louisiana. He said the goal of that state’s program was to allow young people to experience the American dream. He said it’s about education reform.
Every state, wherever the program was initiated, we’ve seen significant reform, significant improvement in A-C-T scores, in grade point averages, in preparation for college, in reduction in remedial offerings, in higher graduation rates at the universities. And parental involvement, probably the biggest of all – you know, where the parents get involved in education with their kids in high school.
There has been concern among some lawmakers that the scholarship program is not based on the needs of the students’ families. But Bill Schilling of the Wyoming Business Association told members that the scholarship program in his state – similar to the Parnell plan – is “income blind.”
The program becomes a leveler because it treats all kids in a similar fashion. They all get the opportunity to earn. So it breaks down social distinctions, economic distinctions, what the parents do distinctions and all that. And the kinds become their own peer group. I don’t want to use the word ‘pressure’ but rather the better word is ‘motivator.’
The legislation setting up the program – which would set aside four hundred million dollars as an income source for the scholarships – is not yet scheduled for further hearings.