By Dave Donaldson
Legislators are still looking for money to pay for the scholarship program proposed by Governor Parnell last fall. The Senate Finance Committee today will take a look at what originally was proposed as a four hundred million dollar endowment to help pay university costs for students who qualify.
However, Senate President Gary Stevens says the price tag has long been seen as a problem. And while setting the whole endowment aside is asking a lot, there are several other options available.
Now it’s in the hands of Finance where it really needs to be. The bill is in good shape and the only issue is how do you pay for it. Finance now has all of the education bills and they’re going to be looking at all of the issues out there. But whether they’re going to be able to come to a decision during this session or not is sort of questionable to me.
Stevens says the cost of the final scholarship program has changed since the governor introduced it – and it might require some legislative activity during the interim to determine the final financing plan. That would leave final action on the program for the next legislature in 2011.
Homer Republican Paul Seaton chairs the House Education Committee that rewrote and added several elements to the governor’s original bill. He says members began looking for alternatives as they came to realize that the four hundred million dollars in funding – as he put it – “hit a brick wall.”
We’ve got students that are going to take classes, work for grades, get a scholarship and expect that to be that basically for four years. And we need some mechanism so that, even if we decide to change that in the future, we’ll meet those obligations that have been incurred.
Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer chaired the Senate Education Committee hearing on the program. He says the House and Senate committees have worked well with the administration – but the price has nearly doubled since the bill was originally introduced. He says the result is a good program that would get students involved by taking harder classes, getting better grades and getting their parents involved in changing the local educational systems. He says the option his committee rejected was simply giving more money to the schools.
Just because you give more money to the schools and teachers, that doesn’t mean that the kids are going to learn more. I truly believe that the key is to get the parents involved to get the kids motivated. And I think this scholarship program that we put together with the governor’s commissioner was going to do that.
The program was designed to pay all tuition expenses for students who have taken basic levels of math, science, language arts and social studies. Those with an “A” grade average would get a hundred percent of the scholarship, with lesser amounts for lower grade averages.
The Finance Committee will meet this morning for its first hearing on the bill.