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Lawmaker proposes making school districts pay for college remediation

Published August 23, 2011 5:25 pm

Education • Legislator wants a debate on "what does a high school diploma mean."
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A Utah lawmaker wants to make school districts and charter schools that fail to prepare students for college pay — literally.

Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, is working on a bill for the next legislative session that would allow colleges to bill school districts and charter schools for the cost of remediating their students when they get to college. Dougall said it's about making sure a high school diploma means something.

"Perhaps the high school or district that issues the diploma should stand behind the diploma, make it mean something and if a kid is supposed to be ready for college and has to be remediated, perhaps that district or high school should have to pay for that remediation cost," Dougall said. "I don't think taxpayers should have to pay twice."

An estimated 18.7 percent of high school students who enrolled in Utah colleges and universities needed remediation in 2007, said Holly Braithwaite, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Dougall is still working out the details of the proposal and said he's open to public input, but some in the education community are wary.

Patti Harrington, with the Utah School Superintendents and Utah School Boards associations, said such a proposal doesn't take into account other factors that might lead to students needing to take remedial classes in college.

"There's a lot more about student performance than whether high schools did their jobs," Harrington said. "It has much to do with parental involvement and student engagement."

She said high schools must do a better job of making sure they graduate competent students, but she said high schools educate students for a variety of student plans, some of which don't include college.

David Jordan, chairman of the Board of Regents for the Utah System of Higher Education, said he didn't want to comment on the proposed bill because he hasn't yet seen it. But he said the subject "is a very complicated area that needs careful and informed study."

"We certainly have a problem in our state of having to perform too much remedial work, but not all of that should be laid at the feet of the high schools," Jordan said. "People don't start their educations in the 10th grade."

Dougall said he believes his proposal will resonate with many people. He said it's only one option, and he's open to other ways of making sure kids are prepared for college before they get there, though he's already started the process of drafting a bill to allow colleges to bill districts.

"I'm trying to force a discussion about what does a high school diploma mean," Dougall said. "What does college-ready mean when a student isn't prepared, yet has [a diploma] that says they should be ready for college?"




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