Sunday, May 22, 2005

No Diploma For You! (But We'll Send You To College)

Would you believe that there is a Denver high school principal who is withholding diplomas from some of his seniors in order to force them to go to college?

By withholding hard-earned high school diplomas and interpreting a state law literally that guarantees an education to students up to 21 years old, principal Scott Mendelsberg is sending 100 Denver seniors to college this fall - and he's charging the state.

Roughly half of the graduating senior class from his Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver will go to Community College of Denver, or go through a vocational program, on the state's dollar.

By counting them as students at Lincoln, even though they've technically earned a high school degree, Lincoln will get the roughly $6,500 a year in state funding that most Denver Public School kids get, and with that, he'll pay their college tuition.

Mendelsberg says the program, which will start this fall, has given his students hope at a school "where a lot of the students had no hope before," he said.

As one might expect, not everyone is happy with this arrangement:
A handful of education leaders, as well as the state treasurer, say that Mendelsberg is too loosely - and maybe even incorrectly - interpreting a law that was meant only to give some troubled and special- needs students a little extra time in high school.

"There's no question that his solution violates the intent of current law," said state Treasurer Mike Coffman. "If he's artificially holding back a diploma ... so he could get the state funding, then it's really a financial shell game."

Vody Herrmann, the Colorado Department of Education's director of public school finance, said the state in the past has closed down similar programs.

"We'll probably withhold funding from those kids," she said. "This is absolutely not OK."
Some 86% of the students at Abraham Lincoln High School are Hispanic, with the majority from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of the school's 238 graduates last year, only 40 went on to college. Under Mendelsburg's system, some 125 students from the graduating class of about 200 will go to college. Of these, approximately 100 will be attending under Mendelsburg's plan.

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