Legislature should quit stalling on scholarship bill

Posted: Sunday, April 04, 2010

Quibbling over details seems to be standing in the way of what we considered was a good idea for higher education coming from Gov. Sean Parnell this legislative session.

Earlier this year Parnell proposed creating a $400 million endowment to fund post-secondary education. His original proposal based award criteria on merit -- Alaska high school students earning at least a C+ grade average and completing a rigorous course schedule. The money would be available for college tuition or other professional training for those choosing in-state institutions.

Initial reaction from lawmakers raised the age-old question that always comes up when we talk about these kinds of scholarship programs. Who should get the money, high achievers or those who can least afford it on their own?

Parnell said he is willing to talk about needs-based criteria, if that's what it takes to reach a compromise.

Then some lawmakers started fretting about the price tag -- $400 million. Parnell had proposed the amount as a starting point, and he says that, too, can be up for negotiation. And, remember, the money would establish an endowment, the earnings of which would be used for scholarships, never the principal.

Now it sounds like all kinds of other ideas are getting sucked into consideration, both on the funding side (annual appropriations, loan forgiveness provisions and helping fund existing university scholarship plans); and on the whole purpose (spending instead on teachers, improving public school standards, motivating students and getting parental support).

In other words, as Rep. Berta Gardner, an Anchorage Democrat and education committee member, told The Associated Press last week, lawmakers are "all over the map" on the right approach to take.

How did this simple idea get so wrapped around the axle?

Thursday, education commissioner Larry LeDoux even told lawmakers they could pass the plan this year in preparation for a fall 2011 rollout, and leave the funding question until next legislative session.

Legislators, this seems like an easy one to negotiate. Parnell hasn't proposed sweeping education legislation; this isn't on the scale of President Obama's health reform measure.

It's one simple, little idea to encourage academic achievement. There doesn't seem to be any down side. Don't make it more complicated than it is.

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