Needs Added to Scholarship Debate

By Dave Donaldson

Both House and Senate Education Committees today ntroduced amendments to the governor’s proposed Performance-based Scholarship that would recognize the financial needs of high school graduates and their families. 

The governor’s plan would give university scholarships to graduates who complete a common curriculum of courses and who pass a nationally recognized standard test.  The amount of the scholarship would vary depending on the student’s grade-point average.

However,  legislators — particularly those from rural areas of the state — say the governor’s plan discriminates against less-fortunate students.

Nome Democrat Neal Foster says the money isn’t needed for those students from well-off families and schools.  But he’d like to see it weighted for those who would have trouble getting to school without it.

You don’t want to reward somebody if they’ve got a D- average,  but at the same time if some element could put the focus on those who need the money — and putting more of that money in that direction,  then I’d certainly support that.

The House Amendment that has been distributed,   but not yet taken up by the committee, was drafted by the Department of Education.   It would provide fifty percent of any un-met financial needs for a student who has already qualified based on the merit-based standards. Those unmet needs are determined by federal standards.

Commissioner Larry LeDoux says that adding on the assistance only to those who have already qualified would open up a college education to students who still can’t afford it.   He says it does not lower standards — and it keeps the goal of improving the educational base in local school districts.

It’s very important that we don’t lose sight of the reform agenda associated with this program.  It’s a challenge to Alaska that we can raise the standard of our young people.   If we don’t have the accountability first,  if we don’t prepare them with a college-prep curriculum, they’re not going to be successful.

The Senate’s approach to including a needs-based element would add an entirely new level of scholarship.  On the table is the option of an extra amount of money for those students with unmet needs.  But it also adds what  Committee Staff member Murray Richmond calls  “flexibility” for students in those schools that won’t be able to meet the curriculum requirements.

We’re saying to schools in Alaska,  We want to beef up your curriculum.  And as this bill goes through, we need to remember that’s part of the mandate of the governor’s bill.

The Senate bill will be back for further consideration on Friday of this week.  The House Education Committee will meet next Monday where its amendment will be debated.


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