State Board chief makes sobering push for scholarship money

Idaho’s current Opportunity Scholarship program is falling far short of meeting the needs of qualified college students.

A $5 million cash infusion, proposed by Gov. Butch Otter, would help bridge the gap, State Board of Education executive director Matt Freeman said Friday morning.

During his presentation to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Freeman said some high school students are being told not to bother applying for the state-funded scholarships — because the money isn’t likely to be there for them.

The scholarship provides up to $3,000 a year, for students who receive a share of the money.

But according to the State Board’s numbers, the money is scarce:

  • In 2015-16, 4,017 students were eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship, up from 1,741 students the previous year.
  • However, the state awarded only 1,158 new scholarships in 2015-16, plus 742 renewals.
  • The average GPA for an Opportunity Scholarship in 2015-16 was 3.73 — well above the state cutoff of 3.0.

Idaho has $5.2 million in the Opportunity Scholarship fund — a sum that would nearly double, if lawmakers approve Otter’s $5 million budget request. The added funding would pay for roughly 1,700 additional scholarships, Freeman said.

“That’s certainly going to help,” he said.