Scholarship makeover passes House Ed

The House Education Committee on Monday sent three bills to the House floor – including, perhaps, the least controversial of the labor proposals from Idaho School Boards Association.

All three bills – House Bill 177, House Bill 163 and Senate Bill 1027 – received a “do-pass”  recommendation from the committee.

Senate Bill 1027, which passed the Senate without opposition Feb. 7, had the most difficult time. The bill would revamp state scholarships over the next two years, consolidate about $6 million worth of several existing scholarships into a revamped Opportunity Scholarship and repeal the Peace Officers’ POW/MIA Scholarship, the Idaho Minority and At-Risk Scholarship and the Robert R. Lee Promise Scholarship.

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Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, led the opposition, saying he was concerned that a scholarship that had previously benefited Native Americans and at-risk students would be rolled into one larger program. He also lamented losing a loan forgiveness program for teachers and complained the bar would be too low by setting a 2.5 GPA threshold for the revamped scholarship.

“Lowering it to 2.5, fiddle sticks,” Nielsen said. “We’re giving scholarships for just a little bit above average?”

Former State Board of Education chairman Curtis Eaton, who served on the committee that developed the recommended changes, stood by the plan. He said the plan is part of a larger state goal to have 60 percent of Idaho’s young adults earn a college degree.

“The overall guiding principle of the committee was it should be combination of need and merit (based factors to determine eligibility),” Eaton said.

State Board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said the bill was drafted in response to an Office of Performance Evaluations report that said affordability was a major barrier for students pursuing college. She said the effort retooling state scholarships is designed to reach more students.

Committee members also quickly passed House Bill 163, pertaining to the electronic delivery of teacher contracts. The bill is one of six ISBA proposals that was redrafted this year in an effort to build consensus.

The new bill contains only one change: Contracts will be sent by mail if emailed contracts are not returned on deadline.

Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, said the state teachers’ union now supports the bill.

House Bill 177 is designed to reduce fees associated with the Idaho College Savings Program. Taking a cue from states such as Utah, Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said the bill hopes to cut costs by bringing in-house several administration functions.

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