Scholarship bill becomes law — despite Otter’s concerns

Some Idaho students will be eligible for a new $1 million scholarship program — but Gov. Butch Otter has reservations about the plan.

On Friday, Otter allowed the program to become law, but without his signature. That action carries the same effect as signing the bill into law, and stops short of a gubernatorial veto. But in a two-page letter Friday, Otter registered his concerns about funding for the new scholarship program.

“It is quite possible there will be students who meet all of the requirements and still not receive a scholarship,” Otter wrote.

Otter’s decision extends to two new laws. House Bill 477 sets up a new scholarship program for students who accumulate college credits while in high school. House Bill 645, a spending bill, bankrolls the program for 2016-17.

Ryan Kerby
Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

Under HB 477, students who earn 10 to 19 college credits can receive a $1,000-a-year scholarship for two years. Students with 20 or more credits can receive $2,000 a year for two years, while high school graduates earning an associate degree can receive a full scholarship for two years.

The money comes with two conditions. Students must secure matching scholarships from private industry, and they must attend college in Idaho.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, pitched the scholarship plan as a way of encouraging students to pursue their college education in Idaho. Legislators appeared to agree. Both bills sailed through both houses with scant opposition.

In his letter, Otter voiced support for the concept — invoking the state’s goal of boosting its lagging college graduation rates. Otter and other state leaders want 60 percent of Idaho’s 25- to 34-year-olds to have a postsecondary degree by 2020; according to the most recent numbers, Idaho is lagging at a 42 percent completion rate.

“I encourage legislators to work with the State Board of Education to refine the requirements of this new program and monitor its implementation to ensure adequate funding is provided and that the program is supporting progress toward the 60 percent goal,” he wrote.

Friday’s action caps a session that saw mixed results on the college affordability front. Lawmakers funded a $5 million expansion of the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship. But the Senate rejected a scholarship bill aimed at adults returning to school, and Otter’s “tuition lock” bill to freeze college costs never got a legislative hearing.

Friday marked the last day for Otter to act on the remaining bills passed by the 2016 Legislature, which adjourned two weeks ago.