Through the course of the past four or five years, the state and federal governments have made many changes to the structure of educational practices. For years, high schools have preached the need for degrees from universities and broad-spectrum education. That philosophy is changing dramatically and at a very rapid pace.

Senate Bill 155 is a perfect example. This particular bill might bring great opportunities both for parents who are paying for their children to attend college and to the students who can start that opportunity while still in high school.

The bill itself focuses on career and technical education initiatives. Many of you might know these efforts better as vocational classes, however, in Kansas the vocational platform has become a much more in-depth learning experience.

Among its features, SB 155 spells out a number of opportunities for local community colleges, but I will focus today on two aspects of the bill that will affect Ottawa High School and its students the most.

First, OHS and the Ottawa school district will earn a $1,000 award for every student who graduates from the district with an industry-recognized credential in a high-need occupation, as identified by the U.S. secretary of labor. Our high school already has several of these opportunities and plans to expand to meet the needs of our students and the state as opportunities arise. Second, Kansas community colleges will be reimbursed a percentage of the cost of secondary (high school) students enrolled in courses in those same areas.

What does this mean? The first item is good for school finance. The second item is good for our students and families because OHS students will be able to take certain courses at Neosho County Community College for free. Yes, that’s correct — for free!

OHS, the Ottawa school district and a number of other local school districts have been working with Neosho to provide a facility for these opportunities, as well as a structure to make it happen. Starting next fall, dependent on enrollment numbers, our students will have access to classes, providing them advanced certificates, at no enrollment charge (they will have to pay class fees) — all during the regular school day, as not to take away from other activities.

Neosho has developed two programs available starting in fall 2013 (once again, dependent on enrollment numbers) with another to come in fall 2014. A welding program will be offered over two years (the first year provides a Level I certificate; the second would earn the student a Level II certificate), totaling 32 credit hours of instruction. The program would be housed at a Garnett facility with the Ottawa school district providing the transportation if our students choose to participate. A health science program would follow the same two-year pattern, with the first including nurse’s aide and medical terminology courses, and the second moving into medication aide and introduction to health information technology courses. A total of 25 hours of clinical participation for nurse’s aide and another 25 for medication aide are required. These classes would be concurrent enrollment at OHS during the school day and would count toward high school graduation credits, as well as their collegiate graduation.

A number of other courses are expected to be offered to high school students free of charge, including college accounting, business law, introduction to networking, nutrition and 12 other courses.

A third program to come in fall 2014 would be in the area of construction technology, which is a program no longer planned because of our inability to find a certified instructor.

SB 155 provides a great opportunity for our students. Our partnership with Neosho and local school districts should allow us to continue to develop these programs and hopefully extend them into the future. Giving the current economic trends in our state, this bill provides a platform for our students to attend college for free, without the expense of their own time (since the program is planned within the school day), and a certification in a high-skill, high-wage occupation.

Dr. Ryan Cobbs is principal at Ottawa High School. Email him at cobbsr@usd290.org or call (785) 229-8020.