Idaho school plan would pay students to graduate early

BOISE, Idaho -- Every high school has at least a handful of them, gifted students who blow through Faulkner as if it were a comic book, teenagers who catch on to calculus as if it were checkers.

These students are often just marking time in high school and typically become bored and withdrawn as they long for a bigger academic challenge.

States are responding to the problem by making it easier for gifted students to head off to college sooner.

Idaho lawmakers have proposed giving scholarships to high school students who enroll in college early. Eight other states are participating in a program that would allow high school sophomores to pass a series of tests and graduate early. A Utah lawmaker earlier went so far this year as to propose letting students skip the senior year.

''There's a fair amount of wasted time,'' said Rep. Steve Thayn, a Republican from the small Idaho farming town of Emmett. ''I think there's a way to keep them engaged and to keep them learning.''

Idaho's plan goes further than other programs around the country because it would allow students to graduate from high school up to three years early, and then receive taxpayer money to enroll at a state university or community college. Students would receive approximately $1,600 in scholarship money for each year they graduate early.

About half the states encourage juniors and seniors to take community college courses, with some of them picking up the tab, said Mike Griffith, a policy analyst at the Education Commission on the States in Denver. But those students stay high school while taking college credit, not moving onto a university campus like the Idaho plan.

Idaho Rep. Branden Durst sees the idea as a way to focus on higher-achieving students instead of the struggling kids who usually draw the most attention from education officials.