Buttars won't pitch optional 12th grade this session

Published February 22, 2010 8:54 pm
Education » Lawmaker says 'accelerated graduation' has been misunderstood.
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Sen. Chris Buttars has decided to hold off on his proposal to make 12th grade optional for students who finish their credits early -- for now.

Buttars, R-West Jordan, says he has decided not to put forth a bill this session that would aim to save the state up to $60 million by providing incentives for students to graduate early from high school. Instead, he hopes lawmakers will study the idea over the coming year, and he might bring the bill back next session.

He said his idea has been seriously misunderstood, and he wants to give people more time to understand it.

"Everyone is saying I want to dump 12th grade," Buttars said. "That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about accelerated graduation."

"I believe accelerated graduation is the future of education," he added.

Earlier in the session, Buttars talked about getting kids to graduate after 11th grade and keeping only a sort of remedial 12th grade. But he soon backed off that idea and instead proposed making 12th grade optional for those who finish their credits early. But he said many people simply couldn't get past the idea that he wanted to eliminate 12th grade. In past weeks, a number of national media outlets picked up the story, sometimes emphasizing that first idea over the second one.

"I think that bill has suffered from perception problems," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who has expressed interest in the idea. "I think moving on when ready is a wise way to save money and seat time in our schools."

Utah students who finish their credits are already allowed to graduate from high school early, and the state already offers Centennial Scholarships of up to $1,000 for students who do that. Buttars proposal, however, would increase that award and make the option clearer, he has said.

He said now he'd like to see two early graduation tracks: one for students going into skilled trades; another for students going to college. He has also said he would want to allow students who graduate from high school early to take classes their freshman year of college for the same price they would have paid to take college-level classes while still in high school.

Some have wondered why an accelerated graduation program is needed when early graduation is already an option. Others have questioned whether allowing students to take college classes for the same amount they would have paid for those classes in high school wouldn't simply shift costs to Utah's colleges and universities.

Many were happy on Monday to hear that Buttars wants the idea studied further before bringing it to a vote. State Superintendent Larry Shumway is creating a task force to study 12th grade.

"I think reviewing what we're doing and ensuring we're providing the best opportunity for kids is always a good thing," Shumway said. "Every bit of research I see, all the data I see, says that students need a more rigorous education to succeed in today's world. I don't see anything that says they need less."

Dave Buhler, associate commissioner for the Utah System of Higher Education, said he's also pleased Buttars won't try to pass the bill this session.

"We would rather see them use their senior year to be prepared for college rather than get out of high school early," Buhler said. "But there are some students where it is a good option, and they do that now."

Buttars hopes the extra time will allow people to move beyond their misconceptions of the idea.

"This is not a radical idea," Buttars said, pointing out that some other states are already working on similar programs. The New York Times reported last week that dozens of high schools in eight states will begin a program next year to allow 10th graders who pass certain tests to graduate two years early and move on to community colleges.

Jordan High School 11th-grader Dakota Clark, who visited the Capitol on a field trip Monday, said he'd love to graduate early if he could, but he doesn't think it's for everyone.

"I think that for some kids, the 12th grade year is kind of a necessity to get credits," Clark said. "But graduating early is good, too. It can get you out into a job and into college and sets you up with experiences."

Although Buttars won't advance a bill this year, he said he plans to pursue the idea.

"It's been abandoned," Buttars said of his bill, "but the subject isn't abandoned."

lschencker@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">lschencker@sltrib.com

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