The Senate didn’t waste any time getting to work this year as the Finance Committee Wednesday opened its first hearing on the Governor’s bill dealing with the Scholarship program he has pushed since he first took office. The House approved it in the closing week of last year’s session.
Dianne Barrans, Executive Director of the Commission on Post-Secondary Education, said about 2,400 students who graduated from high school last year were eligible for the merit-based scholarships. And 900 of them took advantage of it.
“Many of them had already made plans to go outside the state. The scholarship is not portable. It must be used at an institution in the state, although it can be used for both vocational training as well as traditional associate or baccalaureate degrees. Of the eligible students, we saw almost as many of them attend an institution outside the state as those that attended in the state.”
The bill has opposition, particularly from rural legislators. Nome Democrat Donny Olson said he will not support it as is because the current program puts rural students at a disadvantage. And Anchorage Democrat Johnny Ellis said there have been doubts that rural students have access to the courses that are required for the scholarships.
“And the answer from the administration is always, “well, we’re trying, we’re working on it, someday there will be realistic reasonable access for rural students in smaller communities to these rigorous course offerings and they can take classes over the computer and this and that.” Are there any changes we can make in this legislation to address that?”
Chairman Bert Stedman said talks are already going on between lawmakers and the administration over changes to the bill.
Barrans said some of the students who qualified for the scholarships last year are from rural schools, showing that the standard is not impossible. However, she agreed, it is more difficult for rural students to earn the scholarships.
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