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Idaho’s revolutionary new program pays students to graduate early, could transform U.S. education

High school student Abi Calderwood, a senior at Skyview High School in Nampa, Idaho, learns about the Advanced Opportunities Program. (Image source: KIVI-TV)

A revolutionary new education program in Idaho is garnering attention from education reform experts across the country, who say it could serve as a free-market model other states could adopt to improve educational outcomes.

Idaho’s education program, titled “Advanced Opportunities,” pays public school students a $1,500-per-year-skipped scholarship that can be used at any of the state’s post-secondary institutions, gives every student in grades seven through 12 $4,125 to spend on extra classes and standardized test fees and lets students in a state public high school test out of courses.

Unlike many other education programs, Advanced Opportunities encourages students to leave high school earlier and to earn college credits while they are pursuing a high school diploma.

Under the program, which is administered by the Idaho Department of Education, students who graduate early get a $1,500 scholarship to use at a state post-secondary school for every year skipped. A student who graduates two years early would get $3,000, enough to cover one full year of college at some state schools and about 40 percent of the cost of a full-time student’s first year at the University of Idaho.

To help students graduate more quickly, students in grades 7 through 12 are given $4,125 in an online account that can be used to pay for “overload courses”—extra high school classes—and courses at a college that offers dual credits, which count toward a high school diploma and a college degree. Students can also use the funds the cover Advanced Placement tests—which can provide them with additional college credits—other college exams and even to obtain a professional certification.

The program was developed in reaction to a report issued by the state’s Task Force for Improving Education, which published 20 recommendations to improve Idaho’s education system in September 2013.

Idaho high school senior Abi Calderwood told KIVI-TV the program provides “a good opportunity” for many Idaho families.

“It’s a good opportunity, especially for families who don’t have that much right now. College is so expensive these days,” Calderwood said. “It [Advanced Opportunities Program] takes a year out of the college I need.”

In December 2016, the Idaho Statesman reported there has already been a surge in the number of students seeking to attain dual credits under the program.

“It opens up a lot more opportunities for me and a lot more classes that I don’t have to pay for,” said 16-year-old Sebastian Griffin in the Statesman report. “I wouldn’t [be doing] the associate’s degree if it wasn’t for that funding.”

(H/T: The Hechinger Report)

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