Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias In a way, it's almost like bribery.

But if the offer of scholarship money will entice South Dakota high school students to enroll in more challenging courses, thereby becoming, in our view, better educated, we're all for it.

Gov. William Janklow has proposed a Regents Scholars program that would be funded from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement. Students who take a full range of math, science, language and other courses would qualify for the scholarships if they attend one of South Dakota's six public universities or four technical schools.

Students who qualify could get $9,000 over four years. Janklow said that will make parents make sure their children take all the required courses in high school.

The scholarship proposal is also a fitting response to a report released last year that didn't have many good things to say about the education South Dakota high school students are receiving.

The report, released by the National Center For Public Policy and Higher Education, stated that many South Dakota high school students are ill-prepared and have only a fair chance of going to college.

As part of an analysis of education in all states, the center gave South Dakota marginal marks.

The state received a grade of C in preparing students for college, C for the proportion of South Dakotans who enroll in colleges; D+ for the affordability of college in the state, B- for promptness in getting college degrees, and C- for economic and social benefits to the state as a result of its residents' levels of education.

The study found that:

* 45 percent of high school students in South Dakota take at least one advanced math class compared to 59 percent in the best-performing states.

* 37 percent of South Dakotans 18- to 24-years-old enroll in college in the state compared to 42 percent in the top states.

* 2.5 percent of South Dakotans 25- to 44-years-old enroll in college or other schooling compared to 4.7 percent in the best-performing states.

* South Dakota provides virtually no financial aid to low-income students seeking education after high school, the lowest performance in the nation.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature did away with some scholarship programs several years ago over the wishes of Democrats. Democrats have tried to reinstate those programs each year since, to no avail.

Last year, when the report was released, Elaine Roberts, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said the governor and Legislature must place a higher priority on education funding, including scholarships. The report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education points to the need to do more for education in South Dakota, Roberts added.

"We have to continue to look at how we're doing because we got a mediocre grade," she said.

It appears that Janklow is trying to take advantage of the funding resources South Dakota has received from the tobacco settlement in a rather unique way.

He hopes to not only inspire students to do more during their wonder years at high school, but also give South Dakota parents some good reasons to motivate their kids in high school.

The Regents Scholars program requires high school students to take four years of English, four years of mathematics, four years of science, three years of social studies, two years of foreign language and a half-year each of fine arts and computer science. They must average B grades in those courses.

If the Legislature approves the program, parents will demand that high schools offer a full range of basic courses and will see to it that their children take those classes, Janklow said last week.

"If a school system isn't offering these courses, parents had better start asking questions," he said.

We believe that technology such as the Internet or the state's two-way television system will help even small high schools beef up their curriculums in response to this scholarship plan.

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