Administration Asks Legislature to Hold Substitute Scholarship Bill

The Department of Education has requested that the Senate Finance Committee not release a substitute for the governor’s bill setting up the mechanism to pay for the Scholarship Program the legislature approved in 2010.  The Parnell administration had rather have No Bill than a Bad Bill.

The scholarship sets up a required standard for students to follow – and a performance level for them to meet,  in exchange for which the state will pay all or part of their tuition at in-state institutions of higher learning.

Since 2010, however, money for the scholarships has been appropriated on a year-by-year program.  The governor’s bill, HB104 – which passed the House at the end of last year’s session —  would have made the money permanent.

Education Commissioner Mike Hanley says the administration wanted to let the program run on its own for a few years before determining if any changes were necessary.

HB104 was originally designed just to be the funding for the performance scholarship.  So the concern generally speaking is that HB104 is turning into something that is changing the performance scholarship before we’ve really had a chance to see how it’s going to do.

The bill began changing as it was ready to go public in the Senate Finance Committee.  And Hanley stepped in.

In a letter to Finance Co-chair Bert Stedman, the Commissioner said the Senate changes no longer allow the scholarships to encourage high standards from students, school districts and parents.  Specifically, the letter says the Senate version creates a loophole that allows waivers for students who do not take part in distance education programs.  The letter also says the new bill would lower the scholarship’s strict academic requirements by allowing students who get the support to have G-E-D recognition rather than a standard high school diploma.

The bill passed the House last year with a unanimous vote.   Since it related only to money, the Senate referred it directly to the Finance Committee.   Education Committee Co-chair Kevin Meyer says the pending changes would likely have caused some concern at his level — since the intent of the bill was to leave the scholarship itself alone.

We’ve been funding it a year at a time – and personally I think the governor’s approach to finding was perfect this year because we do have such a large surplus of money and we could have set aside a chunk for an endowment and them designate some of those funds to go to the scholarships.  So when I heard it was going direct to finance I thought that makes sense and maybe we’ll get a long-term funding figured out on this.

Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman defended the changes, saying the normal procedure for a bill would have put the House and Senate versions in a conference committee where the programmatic changes would have been addressed.

That’s not a risk Hanley is willing to take.   He says the Senate version changes the intent of the bill.

Performance Scholarship matching up with G-E-D? They just don’t necessarily go hand in hand.   Yes, there could be some of those rare situations where a kid could qualify there,  But I think we’d rather just have it stay in committee if it’s going to stay the way it is.

There are no plans at this time to take further action to provide a permanent funding source.  Instead, the legislature can still act to use $8-million Governor Parnell set aside in this year’s budget to add this year’s scholarship recipients to the program.

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