Education Kentucky Politics

High schoolers would have to fill out a federal college aid application to graduate under a bill advancing in the Kentucky legislature.

House Bill 126 would require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is required to be considered for financial help for tuition, board and other college expenses.

The measure would also allow students to opt out of the requirement, either by filling out a form saying they’ve chosen not to apply to college, or being granted a hardship waiver by a school superintendent.

Rep. Regina Huff, a Republican from Williamsburg and sponsor of the bill, said it would help students know what financial options they have.

“I just think it’s a good opportunity for those to just be aware of FAFSA, and this will become a practice for families once we get this started,” Huff said.

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee Tuesday and now heads to the full House for a vote.

Several states have added FAFSA completion to high school graduation requirements in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Louisiana, the total number of FAFSA completions increased by 25% after the requirement went into effect in 2017.

Rep. James Tipton, a Republican from Taylorsville, said the measure could help educate more students and improve the state’s workforce.

“I think it will open the door for more students to take advantage of those dollars that are out there, but more importantly we can have more productive citizens in the future,” Tipton said.

Nationwide, there’s been a drop in the number of students applying for federal aid since the pandemic began. But federal lawmakers recently passed changes to try and make the sometimes-complicated form easier to complete.

Students will no longer be disqualified for having a drug conviction while receiving aid or failing to register for Selective Service, the federal database used for drafting to the military.

And changes that will be rolled out in the next few years will broaden access to grants and shield more of a family’s income from aid calculations.

Rep. Lisa Willner, a Democrat from Louisville, voted against the measure, saying she worried it would create a barrier for vulnerable students trying to graduate.

“I reluctantly vote no because I think the idea behind this is excellent, but somehow the graduation requirement is just too high a bar for me,” Willner said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.