A bill that allows students in alternative learning settings to take the General Educational Development (GED) test if they are not on track to graduate from a traditional high school passed the House Standing Committee on Education this week with the help of Daviess County Public Schools educator Jeremy Camron.

Camron, principal of Owensboro Day Treatment, testified during the hearing about House Bill 194 that is sponsored by Rep. DJ Johnson, an Owensboro Republican. The bill is also supported by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.

And since Camron and Johnson presented it to the committee, the Kentucky Department of Education has also shown its support.

Owensboro Day Treatment is a Kentucky Education Collaborative for State Agency Children (KECSAC) funded school run by the Department of Juvenile Justice, giving it an A6 designation. Alternative learning programs, like DCPS’ Heritage Park High School and Owensboro Public Schools’ Emerson Academy are designated A5 schools by the state. Alternative learning programs, or A5 schools, are funded and run by local boards of education.

Approximately 3% of students in the state are enrolled in alternative education programs in the commonwealth.

In 2012, the drop-out age for Kentucky students was raised from age 16 to 18, and at that time a greater emphasis was placed on high school graduation. At that time, the pathway for students to earn GEDs was also discontinued, according to Camron.

Camron went on to explain that a 2017 bill was passed into law that allowed students who are referred to as “state agency children,” or students enrolled in A6 schools who are minors in the custody of or supervision of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the opportunity to pursue GEDs. It did not include students in alternative learning programs, or attendees of A5 schools.

Camron said the 2017 law has been a game-changer for many state agency children because many of them come from traumatic backgrounds, and they need access to as many tools as possible to be successful.

“We like to think of it as actually providing hope,” Camron said. “It’s so easy to shut down when life is throwing things at you. Our goal is still for kids to graduate from high schools, if possible.”

However, he said, for some kids that isn’t a realistic goal, and it would take them until age 20 or 21 to do so.

“Some kids in alternative learning programs, and programs like ours, have an immediate need,” he said. “They need to be able to move on with their lives and get a good job.”

In the five years he has been at the school, Camron said he only has had three students obtain their GED. One of those students was able to obtain a job relatively quickly after leaving high school, and makes at least $5,000 a month in a factory.

“There needs to be multiple tools to help these kids have success in life, and we want to make it so that students from Heritage Park or Emerson, or other alternative learning programs, can have that same opportunity,” he said.

Johnson said the bill applies to students who are 17-years-old and older enrolled in an alternative learning program who have insufficient credits to graduate within a reasonable time period.

He said often students in that position “resign themselves to failure and simply become another dropout statistic.”

“Basically, they looked at their situation and said ‘Why bother?’ ” Johnson said. “But by allowing these students to obtain GEDs, they can be turned from dropouts into students who can continue on with post-secondary education. They can learn a trade, get a good-paying job, or perhaps maybe join the military.”

He said HB194 would give those students “hope for a successful future where they have believed there was not.”

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

Bobbie Hayse, bhayse@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7315

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