By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchanghe
CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Legislature will take another crack at changing the requirements for the Hathaway Scholarship for high school students looking to focus on career and technical education.
The bill, Senate File 43, would change requirements for students to receive the two highest levels of funding through the Hathaway Scholarship. Instead of requiring two sequential years of a foreign language class, the bill would allow students in ninth through 12th grades to take three years of one elective: career and vocational education, performing arts or foreign language.
In 2018, a similar bill, Senate File 87, was sponsored by a group of lawmakers and passed out of the state Senate. But it died in the state House as the clock ran out on the budget session. The Joint Education Committee voted to sponsor SF43 in November.
The impetus for the bill is to give students who want to start training for their desired career a way to still qualify for the significant resources of the Hathaway Scholarship, said Rob Hill, president of the Wyoming Association for Career and Technical Education.
"It just makes more sense for a student to study accounting in high school if they're heading toward that career when they get into college. And that's the same for so many other career paths," Hill said. "These students are in high demand in the businesses and industries we speak with on a constant basis. And we know the issues they have. They call it a workforce crisis, and we think we have some solutions to help."
Hill said the requirement of the two years of foreign language creates a hard choice for students looking to jumpstart their career education. A student interested in architecture or mechanics could take elective classes to help prepare them for their future career. But those classes would have to be taken instead of the two sequential years of a foreign language.
And that choice could cost students $420 a semester if they'd otherwise qualify for the Performance Scholarship, or $840 a semester if they'd otherwise qualify for the Honors Scholarship.
The foreign language component was included as part of the creation of the Success Curriculum in 2008, which changed standards with the scholarship program, Hill said. While the bill would change foreign language electives, it wouldn't change the other requirements to qualify for the Performance or Honors scholarships, including ACT scores, grade-point averages and other course requirements.
The 2008 changes had the unintended consequence of reducing the number of students pursuing career and technical education courses, Hill said. Before the new standards were passed in 2008, Wyoming saw about 37 percent of its high school students signing up for career and technical classes, compared to the national average of 41 percent. By the 2016-17 school year, that number had dropped to just over 21 percent.
Hill said that given the high success rate for career and technical education students, including a 94 percent high school graduation rate, it just made sense to allow those electives to count toward the higher rung of scholarship funding.
"This is a merit-based scholarship, and we support that 100 percent. The high ACT scores are truly a gatekeeper for the scholarship," Hill said. "The ACT and GPA requirements are not an issue with students in career and technical education, because they've bought into the system and they excel when they get to college."
During November's Education Committee meeting, lawmakers were encouraged by representatives from the construction industry, oil and gas industry and other economic sectors to allow more flexibility in the Hathaway. The committee even heard testimony from a high school foreign language teacher that the Hathaway requirements should be adjusted.
The bill has also found support from ENDOW, Gov. Matt Mead's economic development initiative. One of the missions of ENDOW is to find ways to not only increase the state's workforce, but also to find ways of keeping Wyoming students in the state after they graduate from two- and four-year schools.
"The ENDOW Executive Committee has recognized the need for a well-trained workforce across all industries in the state," ENDOW Executive Committee Chair Greg Hill said. "Senate File 43 would allow more Wyoming students to complete the career and technical training that employers are demanding from today's workforce, keeping our kids in the state and providing Wyoming business more homegrown talent."
While the bill passed out of the Education Committee, some lawmakers expressed concerns the bill would be watering down the Hathaway. One major issue pointed out during the November hearing was that University of Wyoming admissions requirements include two years of the same foreign language in high school.
Hill said he was hopeful SF43 would find enough support in the 2019 general session and not be faced with the time crunch it faced during the 2018 budget session.