Principals pleased with A+ scholarship expansion to include private school graduates

Catholic school students are the beneficiaries of legislation signed by Gov. Jay Nixon ending discrimination against them in the A+ scholarship program, according to the principals of two high schools that had advocated for the change.

"The real winner here is the kids," said Kevin Mabie, principal of St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in Washington. "Our kids were being denied something that really was their right."

The school's former principal, George Wingbermuehle, had been a part of a 10-year effort by the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, for passage of legislation expanding the A+ program. Since the program's start in 1993, only public high schools have been eligible to become A+ schools, but once SB 638 takes effect on Aug. 28, Catholic and other nonpublic high schools will have the opportunity to be included.

The A+ designation allows students to earn A+ scholarships so that upon graduation they are more easily able to afford community college or other post-secondary technical or vocational institution. The A+ provisions were added to a civics education bill, SB 638, sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Fulton, when the Missouri House considered the measure. State Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, offered the amendment.

In order to earn an A+ scholarship, students must perform at least 50 hours of mentoring or tutoring, demonstrate good citizenship and end their high school career with at least a 2.5 grade point average.

Catholic and other nonpublic high schools may apply to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to become A+ schools. A+ schools must agree to require rigorous coursework of students, and have a partnership with local business and civic leaders that includes plans to provide counseling and mentoring for students entering the workforce.

"I will fill out the application as soon as we are able," Mabie said. "We know right now that many of our students will qualify. Several students will be able to take advantage of this right away."

East Central College in Union is an excellent option for students, the school principal said, with some finishing their education there and many others moving onto other colleges for bachelor's degrees and beyond. "This is a chance for our students to save some money, their families to save some money," Mabie said. "It's not our school that is directly benefiting from these funds. It only make sense that our students are able to benefit from the same program that their public school peers are."

Janet Eaton, principal of St. Dominic High School in O'Fallon, called the extension of the program "awesome" news "that's phenomenal for parents."

St. Charles Community College is at the doorstep of many St. Dominic graduates, Eaton said, and "we very much respect it. In the five years of school data, that's a very popular choice for our students. It's a good school, with a beautiful campus and great programs."

Eaton offered "special thanks for all who fought for the legislation," calling it "certainly an equity matter." 

Informed citizens

Missouri Catholic Conference Citizens' Network members contacted their state senators on the A+ issue, ensuring that Catholic and other nonpublic school students have equal scholarship opportunities. In conference committee, legislators commented upon how they had heard from many constituents in support of the A+ amendment.

Arguments were made that the parents of these graduates are taxpayers, too, and deserve equal treatment.

The Missouri Catholic Conference is the public policy agency for the Catholic Church in Missouri. The state's bishops serve as the MCC's board of directors. The bishops appoint a 15-member Public Policy Committee to provide input to the MCC on an ongoing basis. The MCC is nvolved in all levels of government, especially state and federal issues, and promotes the common good by advocating for public policy that upholds the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

To join the Missouri Catholic Conference Citizens’ Network, visit www.stlouisreview.com/b2B. To learn more about the MCC, visit www.mocatholic.org.

Eligibility

Jon Bauer, president of East Central College in Union welcomes the expansion of the A+ scholarship prograsm. More than 500 students used A+ funding to cover their tuition and general fees last school year at the two-year college.

For an in-district student completing 30 credit hours in an academic year, A+ represents a benefit totaling $2,970; and $4,020 for an out-of-district student at the college. A+ does not cover any additional costs associated with classes, such as lab fees and books.

To be eligible for A+ assistance high school students must:

• Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents;

• Enter into a written agreement with their high school prior to graduation;

• Attend a designated A+ high school for three consecutive years immediately prior to graduation and graduate with an overall grade point average of 2.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale.

• Have at least a 95 percent attendance record overall for grades 9-12;

• Perform at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring, of which up to 25 percent may include job shadowing;

• Maintain a record of good citizenship and avoid the unlawful use of drugs and/or alcohol.

• Achieve a score of proficient or advanced on the Algebra I end of course exam, or a higher level end-of-course exam in the field of mathematics approved by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

• Seek a degree or certificate at the school where they are enrolled on a full-time basis.

They must also make a good faith effort to secure all available federal financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As post-secondary students they must maintain satisfactory academic progress by earning a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA and completing a minimum of 12 credits each semester. The A+ program will not cover costs for students who pursue a degree or certificate in theology or divinity. 

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