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Florence High School student Laura Johnson, 17, takes a final exam in math at the school in 2011.

A measure aimed at increasing the number of Colorado students taking college courses while in high school received a unanimous Senate committee endorsement Wednesday.

That came despite concerns voiced by representatives of rural school districts about costs and difficulty finding qualified teachers to offer such courses.

Senate Bill 176 next goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If signed into law, the bill is expected to cost the state about $52,000 for administration, including a website that would inform students and parents about how concurrent enrollment works. 

The measure would require districts to offer concurrent enrollment courses, where students get both college and high school credit for classes without paying college tuition. Schools wouldn’t be allowed to limit the number of courses students could take.

Participation in such classes rose 9.5 percent last year, according to a report issued on Monday.

“The more classes they can take in high school, the fewer classes they need to take after high school, which means the lower their student debt,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat co-sponsoring the bill.

Only a handful of districts don’t have students participating in concurrent enrollment courses.

Hanover School District Superintendent Grant Schmidt said his district in eastern El Paso County is 45 minutes away from a community college campus, and it’s difficult to attract qualified teachers for college-credit courses. Online courses qualify, but school district staff are required to supervise students. The school district enrolled 10 of 78 high school students in concurrent courses during the 2017-18 school year.

Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, said the bill needs to include a provision allowing the Colorado Board of Education to allow waivers to the requirement.

“We see the mandate in the bill as impossible,” Murphy said.

She told Chalkbeat that despite funding being included in the state budget, that may not be enough to cover tuition that districts pay to community colleges.

“I’m hearing from a lot of districts that are really worried about the cost if they have to give unlimited access,” she said.

But Education Committee members and others sang the praises of concurrent enrollment.

University of Denver student Oliver Martinez-Reyes said he’s in college because he started taking courses at Community College of Denver as a high school junior, and was near an associate degree by the time he graduated. Now, his two younger sisters plan to follow in his footsteps.

“It’s created a tremendous change in our family,” he said.

     

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here.  

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