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Early high school graduates can now get cash

The Minnesota Legislature has just sweetened the pot for high school students capable of graduating early.

Starting in this year, high schoolers that push themselves, taking an accelerated path to graduation, will receive money for doing so.

"How it worked before was when a student had enough credits to graduate early, the district continued to get aid on that student as if they were still there," said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke, "Now, the state will withhold the money from the school district and instead give it to the graduated student to use at any higher education institution."

Froke says in Minnesota, schools receive $5,174.00 per year, per student.

The state's new deal for high schoolers states that for every semester they graduate early, they get $2,500 -- or $5,000 for a whole year.

Froke says as it stands, Detroit Lakes sees "maybe one" student a year graduate early, but he suspects this new incentive will cause that number to rise quickly.

Students with substantial credits, who would otherwise choose to ride their senior year out for the social experience, might now choose to push forward academically.

"The state government is dangling a nice, big carrot out there," said Froke, "and that's one thing that parents and student understand, is cash."

Froke says he suspects the money might be enough of an incentive for students to choose additional on-line courses outside of high school in order to make the cut.

"Because even if they have to pay $250 or so for an online course, they're still coming out way ahead," said Froke.

High school students taking college-level courses during high school do not receive aid; it is only once they are graduated and completely out of the school district.

There is a provision for military aid, meaning if a student graduates early from high school and goes into one of the branches of the military, they will receive that money cash-in-hand.

Right now, legislators are working out details on how the money should be distributed to the other students to ensure they do, indeed, use the money for higher education.

Froke says it's hard to try to predict how many students will take advantage of this offer, which will make it more difficult for the district to budget from year to year.

Incentive for schools

School districts are also seeing some "carrots" dangling as well.

Part of Minnesota's new Education Bill also includes two new components for school incentives.

The first is called "Literacy Aid."

This is where school districts are financially rewarded for literacy achievements, based on third graders. (The grade at which students should be reading to learn, not learning to read.)

How much the district receives is determined by an equation that goes like this:

85-x enrollment x the percentage of third graders that score at a proficient level on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) tests.

"Using Rossman as an example, we would take 85 dollars, times that by 575 students enrolled at Rossman, times that by .80 because that's generally the percentage of Rossman third graders who score proficient in literacy," explains Froke, "That means Rossman students can generate close to $40,000 for the district."

The second incentive is called "Growth Aid."

The equation is similar to the literacy aid, except it is determined by the number of fourth graders that demonstrate a certain amount of growth (beyond the growth already built into the test) on the MCA's from one year to the next.

"But we're kind of still sifting through the entire bill because it's so large, so we've only been able to do a little estimating so far -- we don't know exactly how much this will bring in."

The state has allocated $48 million annually to the two new school incentive programs.