Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Senate Democrats Keeping Promises to Oklahoma College Students and Their Families
(Chair's Note: Thanks to the Senate Democrats for taking leadership on this very important issue. Just today a metro newspaper reported that the fund was out of money and that the students enrolled in the program would not get the funds for the spring semester. Thanks to Senate Pro Tempore Mike Morgan D-Stillwater for pushing this measure.)
Senate Approves Dedicated Funding Source
For Successful Scholarship Program
OKLAHOMA CITY— Legislation to ensure that Oklahoma will keep its promise to pay the college tuition for thousands of deserving scholarship recipients was approved by the full State Senate Wednesday.
Senate Bill 820 creates a permanent dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship Program.
“This legislation will assure that every student who qualifies for an Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship will receive their scholarship,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, author of the measure. Currently, approximately 15,000 students are attending college on Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships and another 30,000 middle and high school students have signed up for the program.
“As a state, we’ve made a promise to these students. This bill will ensure that we keep that promise,” Morgan said. The legislation is part of the 2007 legislative agendas of the Senate Democrats’ and Governor Brad Henry.
Morgan noted that funds to pay Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships for the current fiscal year have run out due to lagging revenues from some sources, leaving many scholarship students in limbo.
“I am confident that the Legislature will provide a supplemental appropriation and that these students will receive their scholarships, but passage of this legislation, will mean we won’t have to have this discussion in the future. Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships will get funded first,” Morgan said.
Senate Bill 820 requires the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to certify the amount needed to fund the program in the coming fiscal year each November. The funds would then be set aside when the State Board of Equalization meets in December and February.
The measure is similar to the ROADS program passed by the Legislature in 2006 to boost highway maintenance funding. Unlike the ROADS program, however, Oklahoma’s Promise funding is not limited to revenue from personal income tax. Oklahoma’s Promise funding will simply come from state general revenue, further ensuring that funds will always be available to pay for the scholarships.
Oklahoma’s Promise, originally known as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, provides scholarships for students who complete a specific college-preparatory curriculum, make good grades and stay out of trouble. Students, whose family income is $50,000 or less, can sign up for the program in the 8th, 9th or 10th grades.
The program began in the early 1990s and has been incredibly successful. The program’s annual cost has grown to nearly $40 million is projected to reach nearly $50 million in Fiscal Year 2008 and $60 million by FY 2009.
“These students take personal responsibility for their future. They make a promise to the state that they will prepare themselves for college and the state, in turn, commits to provide them with a college education. This legislation will ensure that the state keeps its end of the bargain,” Morgan said.