DENVER Gov. Bill Owens signed Colorado's first-in-the-nation college voucher plan into law Monday, calling it a landmark step that will empower thousands of students.
Owens said the vouchers send a message to high schoolers that college is not out of reach and that state money up to $2,400 per voucher is available to help them.
''Quality education isn't about institutions, it's about the future of our students,'' he said. ''It's a new day for higher education funding in America, and I'm proud to say that it's dawning in Colorado.''
Stipends will be available to all Colorado undergraduate students who qualify for in-state tuition.
Every year, the Legislature would set the value of the stipend based on the state budget. For next fall, the amount is set at $2,400 for students attending a public institution in Colorado, and $1,200 for low-income students attending three private institutions: Regis University, which is a Catholic institution, the University of Denver and Colorado College. The money can go to religious schools, as long as they are not ''pervasively sectarian.''
The National Conference of State Legislatures says no other state has attempted a voucher program on such a scale.
But students might not get the full $2,400 this year because of budget problems, state lawmakers have said. They said the amount will have to be cut to $1,600 unless voters ease fiscal restraints embedded in the state Constitution or agree to use millions of dollars Colorado gets from the national settlement with the tobacco industry.
Without one of those steps, higher education and Medicaid will be on the chopping block when lawmakers have to cut an estimated $254 million next year, said Rep. Brad Young.
Owens is considering whether to call a special session for lawmakers to address the fiscal restraints. The Legislature failed to come up with a plan to present to voters this November.
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