- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A program under review by the General Assembly would let Georgia high school students earn credit toward a diploma, while simultaneously giving them an early start on earning an associates’ degree or certificate in certain fields.

Georgia already offers a dual enrollment program that partners local technical schools and colleges or universities with high schools for certain classes. But those credits don’t count toward high school graduation requirements.

Supporters said otherwise qualified high school students may grow disinterested if they feel required classes are irrelevant to helping them get a job after graduating.

They also consider it part of a national effort to fill the gap between available trained workers and employers’ needs in high-tech or specialty industries. Georgia last year released a report based on executives from multiple industries who complained of being unable to find a qualified workforce here, and the Obama administration has put a renewed focus on community and technical colleges’ role in that fight.

“You’ve got a lot of kids in high schools (that) are not succeeding,” said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “This bill appears to be an opening for some kids, a way to move on in life. We want the kids to be on a track that will allow them to succeed.”

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Republican from Marietta who sponsored the bill, called the proposal a potential “game changer” and said it would not allow students to take shortcuts. Students would have to be at least 16 and complete two years of traditional high school classes before becoming eligible to enroll in technical college diploma or certificate programs or an associate degree program.

Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Board Association, said the group anticipates the program will affect few students at first because it is limited to “critical needs” subjects. The bill charges the Technical College System of Georgia’s governing board with identifying those topics.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whose office developed the bill, first pitched the dual credit program at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual breakfast kicking off the legislative session, telling hundreds of business leaders that it was a “capstone” to the state’s dual enrollment programs and will help address Georgia’s shortfall of workers.

“For some students, we need to offer another alternative,” Cagle said. “If a student is ready to successfully begin a program of study after the 10th grade, let’s not hold them back.”

The Georgia Senate passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday. It now goes to the House for consideration. Teacher organizations, other education groups and state Superintendent Richard Woods all have supported the proposal.

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