FRANKFORT – Over the years, I have had the honor to sponsor some of the most far-reaching laws benefiting our schools. In the 1980s and 1990s, that included the lottery and the Kentucky Education Reform Act, and several years ago, it was the coal-county scholarships that are helping many of our college students stay close to home as they pursue their four-year degree.
Last week, I was proud to add another bill to that list. The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, which drew dozens of legislators and supporters when it was announced in the House chambers, would give our graduating high school seniors a chance to get a two-year college degree without owing any tuition at all.
For a relatively small amount of state dollars – a little more than $30 million over the next two fiscal years – we can increase the number of potential undergraduates who thought college was beyond their reach and give our businesses a better-trained workforce.
I call the scholarship “the last dollar in,” because it would cover the gap between what an incoming freshman has earned or received through other state and federal grants and scholarships. This includes the KEES money that students earn throughout high school and is paid for with the state’s lottery proceeds. The Work Ready scholarship’s size does not depend on loans or aid that has to be re-paid.
KCTCS President Jay K. Box is a major supporter, and he brought with him to the press conference four regional school leaders, including Big Sandy Community and Technical College President Dr. Devin Stephenson. President Box and I are scheduled to testify on the bill this week before the House budget committee and expect the idea to clear the chamber either this week or next.
If it ultimately becomes law, the program would begin with this year’s graduating high school seniors entering a KCTCS school in the fall.
Students would be required to fill out a federal financial aid form, and the tuition money they receive could not be used for such other college-related expenses as food or lodging.
Once in college, the student would have to take at least 12 college credit hours and maintain a 2.0 GPA or better. The scholarship would end within six semesters of eligibility, when they obtain an associate’s degree or when they have been out of high school for four or more years.
KCTCS officials believe that, based on a similar program in Tennessee, a little more than 3,200 students would qualify this fall if this bill becomes law.
There have been some questioning whether the state can afford this. I would argue that there is nothing more important we could invest in this year if we want to build on the gains we have seen in postsecondary education.
It is worth pointing out that Governor Bevin’s proposed budget has hundreds of millions of dollars sitting idle, and while some of that is prudent in case of emergencies, we in the House believe that most tax dollars should go toward helping Kentuckians.
While the scholarship program and other budget-related matters were the biggest topics of discussion in the House last week, we also moved forward two noteworthy bills.
The first of those, House Bill 137, would require those convicted of attempted murder of a police officer or firefighter to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for probation or parole. Currently, they are eligible after serving just 20 percent, a bar too low for that type of crime.
We also approved House Bill 210, which would increase the penalties for those who attack local health department employees. This would add this group to about 10 others already covered under this provision, including law enforcement, social workers and teachers.
After this week, only two full ones will remain in the legislative session, and that time will be critical when the House and Senate decide which measures they can support and which will not become law.
It’s a lot to do in a relatively short amount of time, and I want to thank those who have let know their views on these issues. If you would like to take part, my email is [email protected] You can also leave a message for me or any legislator at 800-372-7181.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.