(Host) A battle is brewing over the governor’s college scholarship plan.
On one side is Governor Jim Douglas who hopes his new program would encourage students to stay in Vermont.
On the other side is Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett.
She says the governor has identified some critical problems, but has come up with the wrong solution.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Douglas wants to create 1000 scholarships a year, for a ten-year period, that would be financed by using the state’s second installment of the national tobacco settlement. This would amount to roughly $175 million over the next decade.
The governor says the plan is needed to make college more affordable for Vermont students, to encourage these students to work in the state after graduation, and to help provide fiscal stability for the Vermont State College system.
Bartlett says Douglas has identified the right problems but has come up with the wrong solution:
(Bartlett) “Nobody’s opposed to scholarships. I think the governor has certainly identified as has been identified before very clear issues of workforce development, creating good jobs, but I think I would address those and I am going to encourage the Senate and the House to address those in a different manner than here’s a bunch of one time money that helps a lot of individual students but doesn’t address a number of those issues.”
(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s not backing down over this issue because he’s convinced that the future of the state’s economy is at stake:
(Douglas) “I travel around the state a lot more than legislators too. And I have to tell you there’s a lot of enthusiasm and support for the Promise Scholarship program. It would be a real shame. It would be a decision that would neglect the importance of our state’s future if the Legislature doesn’t do this.”
(Kinzel) Douglas says the scholarship program is also needed to ensure that the State College system has enough students in the coming years:
(Douglas) “The chancellor of the state colleges has made it very clear that with such a rapid decline in the number of young people coming out of our high schools it’s a real question as to whether Johnson State College and or Lyndon State College will be able to survive over the next decade or two.”
(Kinzel) Senator Bartlett says the best way to help the State Colleges is to increase base funding levels for these institutions. She also strongly opposes the Governor’s plan to pay for his new program by tapping the national tobacco settlement money. She argues it should be used for smoking prevention and other health care programs:
(Bartlet) “This may well be the best existing prevention of chronic illnesses that we have going in the state of Vermont. With all these young people who don’t start smoking, with all the adults that we have been successful in having them stop smoking, all those avoided costs are gigantic. So this is really a philosophical matter.”
(Kinzel) Bartlett says when her committee votes out next year’s proposed state budget at the end of this week, it won’t include any money for the governor’s scholarship program.
For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier