College scholarship program in line for a $3.5 million boost

(UPDATED, 12:38 p.m., with Senate vote on adult completer scholarship bill.)

Legislators put more money into college scholarships Tuesday — but not as much as Gov. Butch Otter had requested.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved a $3.5 million increase in the state’s popular Opportunity Scholarship program. Otter had requested a $5 million increase.

If the $3.5 million increase passes, the money could cover a fraction of the state’s unmet scholarship needs. The new money could bankroll an additional 1,042 scholarships. But last week, the State Board of Education said it had a waiting list of 2,400 eligible students who were still hoping for a share of Opportunity Scholarship money.

And the competition for state scholarship dollars could intensify, if a separate bill works its way through the Legislature. Otter is pushing a bill to shift up to 20 percent of the scholarship money into an “adult completer” program, designed to help older students return to college. This bill passed the Senate Tuesday on a 25-10 vote.

Here’s how the math could work:

  • Currently, Idaho puts $10 million a year into the Opportunity Scholarship.
  • JFAC’s proposal would increase that line item to $13.5 million a year.
  • If the Legislature approves the adult completer scholarship, the State Board could wind up putting $2.7 million into that scholarship. The remaining balance, $10.8 million, would go into the Opportunity Scholarship, which generally supports traditional college students.

“We feel this amount serves both populations,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a JFAC member who helped craft the scholarship budget.

The scholarship budget bill passed JFAC on a 20-0 vote. It now has to work its way through both houses, before going to Otter’s desk.

Adult completer scholarship bill

Senate Bill 1279, the proposal to create the adult completer scholarship, heads to the House after Tuesday morning’s Senate vote.

The bill’s floor sponsor, Sen. Bob Nonini, pointed out that more than 55,000 25- to 34-year-olds have some college credits, but no degree. Getting these adults back to school will help Idaho make progress toward its goal of getting 60 percent of 25- to 34-year-old to obtain a college degree or certificate. The state has already abandoned its 2020 target date for the “60 percent goal,” in favor of a 2025 target.

“I think it’s time to stop backing things up and face the realities of economic development in Idaho,” said Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said adult students would best be served by expanded night, weekend and online classes. She suggested the bill does nothing to align scholarships with work force needs. “This is a very, very broad scholarship proposal.”

Also voting no were Republican Sens. Steve Bair of Blackfoot; Cliff Bayer of Meridian; Dan Foreman of Moscow; Mark Harris of Soda Springs; Tony Potts of Idaho Falls; Jim Rice of Caldwell; Jeff Siddoway of Terreton; Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene; and Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens.

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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