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Measure 'fixing' 1999 reform act passed

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A bill designed to fix flaws in a 1999 education reform act is on its way to Gov. Frank Keating after easily passing the House and Senate.

A key feature of the bill would increase scholarship opportunities for college-bound students.

"This is a winner," said Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on education.

The bill passed the House, 96-4, on Wednesday after more than two hours of debate sparked by Republican opposition to various features of the bill, including the scholarship section.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to send the bill back to conference for further work.

The measure expands eligibility requirements for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, known as OHLAP.

"All the experts have told us that the only way to attract high-paying jobs and increase personal income is to boost the number of college graduates in Oklahoma," Hobson said. "The only way to do that is by helping more students get a college education.

"I think every dollar that we invest in a scholarship for a young person will ultimately be returned to us in the form of future economic benefits."

House Bill 2728 expands OHLAP's income eligibility level from $32,000 to $50,000, a change that could bring as many as 4,000 students into the program.

The legislation revises a number of sections in last year's reform bill, House Bill 1759, correcting what legislators had described as deficiencies.

If signed into law by Gov. Frank Keating, the bill would:

--revise a state college tuition scholarship program, deleting the controversial "diploma of honor" requirement. It sets new criteria, including a minimum ACT of 26, a minimum grade point average of 3.25 and a ranking in the top 15 percent of a high school graduating class.

--requires education officials to agree in two years on a uniform schedule for spring breaks.

--changes required core curriculum courses, providing students with more flexibility to take advantage of vo-tech opportunities.

--revises certification requirements for middle school math teachers, allowing certification through passage of a competency test or professional development courses.

--clarifies that school dress codes are decided by local officials and not the state.

Some Republican House members argued against the scholarship plan, saying it will prove burdensome to taxpayers.

Others worried the bill eases tough academic standards required by the 1999 bill.

Keating said he would veto the bill "if it dilutes academic vigor."
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