Topeka Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said the Senate's passage of a qualified admissions bill Wednesday sent an important signal to Kansas high school students.
"They've got to know that they can't expect to get an education without working for it," said Praeger, who voted for the bill after a one-hour debate.
"The standards in this bill are minimal. They ask that students be prepared," said Sen. Tim Emert, R-Independence, a former member of the Kansas Board of Education.
The Senate voted 27-13 to become the first Kansas legislative chamber to adopt a bill that would eliminate the long-standing policy of open admissions at Kansas University and five other Board of Regents universities.
"There is growing sentiment for qualified admissions and yesterday's Senate vote underscored that fact. It has a chance," KU Chancellor Gene Budig said today.
CURRENTLY, state law allows any graduate of an accredited Kansas high school to enroll in the Kansas Board of Regents university of his or her choice.
The Board of Regents proposed qualified admissions in 1987 and has expended countless hours lobbying for the policy change during the past six years.
"People are realizing that when we raise expectations, kids will measure up," said Stanley Koplik, the board's executive director.
The House, which shot down a similar qualified admissions bill by five votes in 1990, now will take up this version. There's no way to know how House members will respond to the legislation, said House Speaker Bob Miller, R-Wellington.
"With all the new people, it's hard to predict that kind of thing. I sense among the veterans growing support," he said.
Among Lawrence's House delegation, Reps. Forrest Swall and Barbara Ballard, both KU faculty members, favor higher admissions standards. They are new to the Legislature this year. Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, a Statehouse veteran, does not support qualified admissions.
Gov. Joan Finney has said she wouldn't support a selective admissions policy at state universities.
UNDER QUALIFIED admissions, students would have to pass a new basic skills test in the 10th grade and meet one of three criteria to enroll at a state university.
The options: score at least 23 on the American College Test, graduate in the top one-third of a high school class or hold a 2.0 grade-point average in the regents' college preparatory curriculum.
The preparatory curriculum, as amended by the Senate, would include four years of English and three of math, social studies and natural sciences, and either two years of foreign language or one year of a foreign language and one year of computer technology.
Twenty-four Republicans and three Democrats voted for the bill; 10 Democrats and three Republicans voted against it.
Sen. Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, carried the bill on the Senate floor.
"We're the only state remaining that has no qualifications beyond a high school diploma," said Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee.
He said the bill would reduce the number of state university dropouts and free the universities from the burden of dealing with so many ill-prepared students.
"We are providing a very expensive, unsuccessful experience for a number of our kids," Kerr said.
THE BILL was about credibility and accountability, not about denying access to higher education, said Sen. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard.
"It doesn't say `no,' " he said. "It says `not now' if you don't qualify. It says to taxpayers, `You're going to get your money's worth.' "
Several opponents of the bill delivered emotional speeches about the evils of admissions standards.
"We have fought this for years and years and have not been able to cut off its head," said Sen. Al Ramirez, R-Bonner Springs.
"We're closing a door to opportunity," said Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Sen. Bill Wisdom, D-Kansas City, said qualified admissions would unfairly deny Kansans their right to attend a taxpayer-financed state university.
"You may have the votes to pass this, but that doesn't make it right," he said before the vote.
Sen. Carolyn Tillotson, R-Leavenworth, said some people do poorly in high school but do well in college. So-called late bloomers deserve a chance, she said.
"IF WE DISCOURAGE even one young person from entering a university, it's not worth it," she said.
Praeger didn't buy the late-bloomer argument.
"We need to put a little water on them earlier," Praeger said. "Maybe it would get them to bloom earlier."
The bill would take effect in 1997. That would give high schools four years to prepare students for the new admissions rules.
New regulations wouldn't apply to students 21 and older. Students who don't qualify directly out of high school could attend a nonregents college and transfer to a state university after demonstrating academic achievement.
A controversial element of the bill was an exemption, or window, for special students. Regents requested a 15 percent window for each incoming freshman class, but the Senate Education Committee wanted to close it to 5 percent. The Senate voted 20-17 to set the window at 10 percent.
"We need to allow educational institutions in our state the increased flexibility," said the author of the compromise amendment, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Hays.