Senate looks at revamping college scholarships

Idaho may award fewer — but larger — college scholarships, under a bill making its way through the Senate.

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday approved Senate Bill 1027, which would move $5.9 million worth of programs into Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship.

Among the scholarships that would be eliminated: the Category B Promise Scholarship. This program awards some $3.6 million in scholarships annually to 7,000 students, State Board of Education spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said. But because the scholarship money is shared by a wide pool of recipients, the award is modest: $200 per semester for the first two years of college.

Under SB 1027, the state would shift money away from the Promise Scholarships and other programs, such as a loan forgiveness program for nurses and teachers. This money would go  into an expanded Opportunity Scholarship program, aimed largely at lower-income students. Currently, the Opportunity Scholarship is worth up to $3,000 per year; 357 students received this scholarship in 2011-12.

The revamped Opportunity Scholarship might max out at $2,000 per year, Whitney said, but the goal is to help more students afford and attend college, by providing a scholarship that can augment federal aid. The new Opportunity Scholarship could reach 3,000 to 4,000 students at a time, she said.

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Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, spoke against the bill and cast the lone dissenting vote Wednesday.

He said he was worried that the State Board’s plan — which would award some scholarships based on academic merit — might penalize students in need.

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“If the college accepts them, shouldn’t that be good enough?”

The bill now goes to the Senate floor.