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.

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.

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

The bill now goes to the Senate floor.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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