By the end of the 2011-12 school year, all southern Barry County school districts will have received A+ designation, which means all area students will have the opportunity to earn two years of free college tuition after high school. Last week, Gov. Jay Nixon visited the Purdy and Exeter school districts to congratulate school board members, administrators and teachers for achieving A+ status at the end of the 2010-11 school year. The Cassville School District has been A+ designated since 1999, and the Southwest School District earned A+ status at the end of the 2009-10 school year. This year, the Wheaton School District will also complete requirements and earn A+ designation.
It is exciting to know that administrators, educators and school board members across southern Barry County have put in the effort to give students the opportunity to take part in the A+ program. Now it is time for area students to do the work. In order to earn a scholarship that covers two years of tuition and academic fees at a community or technical college in Missouri, students must graduate with at least a B average, maintain at least 95 percent attendance throughout high school and perform 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring service. By going to class, earning good grades and helping others, students can attend the first two years of college virtually cost free. Some of the state's four-year universities, including Drury, Southwest Baptist and Missouri Southern State, also offer thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to students who have successfully completed the A+ program.
During his visit to area school districts, Gov. Nixon announced that the fiscal year 2012 budget will provide over $29 million for the A+ program. This is an increase of $7 million over funding earmarked for the program in 2011. It is wonderful to see the governor committing funds to a program that can benefit so many Barry County students, but again our local students must do the work to earn those funds.
According to a press release issued by Gov. Nixon, nearly 125,000 students have qualified for A+ scholarships since the program was introduced in 1997. Over the last 14 years, over 50,000 students have taken advantage of A+ scholarships for at least one semester. Students have received more than $250 million in A+ scholarships.
Currently, 46 Cassville High School graduates are using A+ scholarships to attend classes at Crowder College, Ozark Technical College and other community and technical colleges. The high school has certified 420 students through the A+ program in the last 12 years. Those students have had the opportunity to utilize $1,992,000 in funding for tuition and academic fees. The percentage of CHS students participating in the A+ program has doubled in the last four years. This year, 56 percent of the student body is taking part in the program.
Wouldn't it be amazing to see over 50 percent of all Barry County students taking part in the A+ program? Not only does the A+ program benefit students, but it can benefit households that struggle to pay for or help their children pay for college. It will also decrease student loan debt for college graduates, which can help improve the financial standing of hundreds of young adults in the future. I hope all Barry County parents have taken the time to learn about the A+ program and what it offers area students. I also hope that local parents will encourage their children to take part in the program in high school.
Congratulations to the local school districts that have achieved A+ status, and thanks for making this opportunity available to area students.