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U.S. Rep from Plano reaches across aisle (again) to recognize high school dual-credit programs

Front of a modern multi-story brick, glass and steel structure with gray, open-winged eagle statues near the top of either side of the entrance. Above the doorway are the words Allen High School in all caps.
Allen ISD
Allen High School, home of the Eagles, holds more than 5,000 students and is the district's only high school

An education bill designed to highlight and honor the nation’s best high school and college dual-credit programs seemed like an easy sell to two Congressmen from opposing parties. Until it failed. Now, they’re reintroducing it.

In this politically divided nation, U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, a Republican from Plano, and Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine, teamed up for a bipartisan effort they figured might be an easy win.

Taylor and his congressional colleague are backing what’s known as the ‘Dual Credit Innovation Act.’ The bill would direct the Secretary of Education to start a program to recognize high schools for expanding high-quality dual credit programs.

Dual credit programs take off

The number of Texas high schools offering courses for college credit has soared since the turn of this century. The number of high school students taking classes for college credit has jumped by more than 750% in Texas alone, according to the journal Education Next.

That’s because these programs make sense, according to Daniel Soliz, who’s Director of Student Services at the Allen Independent School District.

"Students who are participating in dual credit are better prepared and more successful in college,” said Soliz. "They graduate from college at higher rates and with less student debt.”

Soliz said students are three times more likely to graduate from four-year schools and have higher grades than their classmates when they’ve taken dual-credit classes. Allen ISD has nearly doubled the number of high schoolers who earn dual credits in the past five years.

“In the school year 2016-2017, we had about 470 students,” Soliz said. "Currently, we have about 800 students enrolled in at least one dual-credit course.”

Soliz predicts that number will tick up to 1,000 soon.

Expanding affordable college options

Back when he served in the Texas legislature, Van Taylor successfully wrote a bill allowing for more high school courses to be eligible for dual credit. So he brought his efforts and education interests to the U.S. House of Representatives when he was elected in 2019.

"That partnership is great for the student,” said Taylor about dual credit programs. “They're taking a harder curriculum. They're graduating with an Associate's degree. They're ready to go to work or go on to college if that's what they want to do. It's good for the parents. That's two years of college the parents don't have to pay for. It's good for the taxpayer because the taxpayer is paying for that high school education already."

‘No-brainer’, take two

Dual-credit courses also make sense to Maine Democrat and congressional colleague Rep. Jared Golden.

He and Taylor, both former Marines, wrote the bill jointly, and have worked together before. Golden says this bill would publicize successful dual-credit programs and honor them the way some K-12 schools are recognized every year with national blue ribbons.

"And so why wouldn't Congress want to incentivize schools to create these pathways by saying, ‘You know what? We're going to give you national recognition,’” said Golden. “It seems like a no-brainer to me."

It seemed that way to Taylor too, but he acknowledges this bill failed before in Congress. He blames the political agenda, controlled by Democrats.

"We should hold up dual credit innovation as an important way to decrease the cost of college,” said Taylor

"But you know, Nancy Pelosi makes it hard to do ‘the simple.’ And so I'm undeterred and we'll continue to do this because it's the right thing to do.”

Democrat Golden has a different take than his Republican colleague.

"I can understand his frustration,” said Golden. “You know, being a member of the minority can be, I think, difficult. I don't blame him for criticizing the majority. If the shoe were on the other foot, I'm sure I would have plenty of criticism to offer Republican leadership.”

Now Golden, who acknowledges that most bills from either party never go anywhere, says it’s up to him and Taylor to convince more colleagues this bill deserves another look, and a vote, to get it out of committee.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at . You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.