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D.C. bill mandates college application for high school diploma

Brown also wants all students to take entrance exams

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D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown will introduce a bill Wednesday that would require all city high school students to apply to at least one college before graduating.

The effort is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, while a second clause in the bill would add the District to a list of 11 states that require students to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams, according to Mr. Brown's office.

The bill is part of a legislative agenda that focuses on education, the collection of fines for various city violations and the continuing effects of an ethics-reform bill that the council passed before its holiday recess.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said his College Preparation Plan Act of 2012 is designed to expose the 18,000 students in D.C. public high schools and public charter schools to college opportunities as they face an increasingly competitive workforce.

In support of the bill, Mr. Brown cited an Education Week study released last year that says the District had a 43 percent high school graduation rate in 2008. Citing his personal experiences on college tours with D.C. youths, Mr. Brown said many students do not realize they have a chance for a college education until they are compelled to apply and get accepted.

"They want to do better for themselves," he said at a news briefing Tuesday. "What they don't have is anything that motivates them."

Mr. Brown acknowledged that he is still working out some challenging details, such as how to fund the fees associated with the bill. The University of Maryland, for example, requires a $65 fee to be submitted with applications. The University of Virginia requires a $60 application fee, and the University of the District of Columbia requires a $35 fee.

The college entrance exams also cost money: $49 for the SAT and between $33 and $48 for the ACT.

The council chairman downplayed suggestions that colleges would not want applications from D.C. students who need to fill a government-mandated requirement.

"I don't see anything wrong with that process," he said.

Mr. Brown said his bill should not be construed as an attempt to funnel everyone into college — other forms of skills training may be more suitable for some youths — but to provide them opportunities and know-how on the college process.

"I think we should do everything we can," he said, "and there's certain areas we have to flesh out. I understand that."

Mr. Brown's office said it believes the District is the first jurisdiction to propose the mandatory-application initiative.

The Maine Board of Education rolled out a similar measure in 2007 before clarifying that students did not have to submit the applications they produce.

Mr. Brown will introduce a second bill Wednesday that establishes an early warning and intervention system to track how certain students in grades four through nine are performing and whether they are at risk of dropping out.

Also Wednesday, council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, will move emergency legislation to help implement ethics provisions that the council passed Dec. 20.

Specifically, it would compel Mayor Vincent C. Gray to nominate three members of the newly formed Board of Ethics and Government Accountability within 45 days. The council then would have 45 days to confirm the nominees.

The legislation also would speed up the charter amendment process, allowing D.C. voters to weigh in on whether elected officials should be disqualified from office for a felony conviction and if they approve of the council's new procedure for expelling a sitting council member.

City legislators are expected to put their final stamp on a separate bill by council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, that tightens hiring practices in the executive branch after personnel issues plagued the first months of Mr. Gray's term.

The legislation abolishes nepotism in D.C. government hiring, reduces the number of the mayor's political appointees from 160 to 100 and requires appointees to be "well-qualified" instead of "minimally qualified."

Among other items, Ms. Cheh said, the council will consider a bill that centralizes debt collection efforts in a single unit within the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

She said the city estimates that it can collect an additional $10 million per year through the legislation, which tasks the unit with examining which debts are collectable, the costs of collection and methods to withhold city funds from debtors to offset the amount they owe.

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