GREAT FALLS (AP) — Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Denise Juneau wants to raise the dropout age in Montana from 16 to 18 and increase funding for Montana Digital Academy so that more students can access online courses without having to pay.

Those are some of the plans for an ambitious legislative agenda Juneau unveiled Thursday to education supporters in Great Falls.

She said that 65 percent of schools in Montana have signed on to her Graduation Matters initiative launched two years ago in an effort to improve graduation rates. The measure failed in 2011 but she said she hopes more people back the program now. Great Falls Public Schools have signed onto the initiative.

“Every community involved has developed its own plan,” she said. “You are a town and a community we talk a lot about around the state.”

The Great Falls Tribune reports that Juneau is also calling on lawmakers to approve a $1.5 million increase over two years for the Montana Digital Academy.

She’s also seeking funding from lawmakers so that school districts such as Great Falls can receive money to provide more education to 19-year-old students. Current legislation only pays for students through age 18. Her proposal adds $1.2 million to general K–12 spending.

She’s also asked for an increase of $34 million in general fund spending for K–12, mainly aimed at putting in place a common core curriculum and technology.

“I think that’s the state’s responsibility (to fund),” Juneau said.

Juneau has also proposed spending $600,000 on tuition and fee waivers for high school students wanting to enroll in dual-credit courses, $250,000 on regional career coaches, and $150,000 to get more high school teachers around the state licensed and endorsed to teach dual credit college courses. Those are all intended to prepare high school students for college.

Juneau said it could be difficult to persuade the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature in 2013, but she also noted the state is projected to have a surplus close to $475 million.

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