Michigan Promise almost broken

Oct. 19, 2009

ALLLENDALE, Mich. — Within a few days, the Michigan State budget is expected to be finished — along with the Michigan Promise Scholarship program.

The program, which paid up to $4,000 per student for completing two years of secondary education, is slated to be cut by lawmakers, who say that the program is too expensive for the money-troubled state government to continue.

Recently, Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas sent out an e-mail to recipients of the program at his school, saying that faced with the program’s cancellation, students need to now pay the tuition money that the state cannot.

“I am disappointed beyond words that the state of Michigan cannot keep its promise to you,” said Haas in the e-mail.

Around 7,000 students at Grand Valley are affected by the loss of the program.

While Grand Valley is the only university in the state to have charged students before the program has been officially struck from the budget, State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, says that students should be angry at the state, not the school.

“They should be angry at the state legislature because we are the ones who created the program and we are the ones who voted against it,” Kuipers said.

Kuipers voted to keep the scholarship program in the budget. He said he believes the state should be helping students with their college education.

““We should be doing whatever we can to make college affordable for kids,” said Kuipers. “I thought the scholarship promise was a good way to reward students for success in grade school and give them a fighting chance at a college education.”

However, Kuipers said programs created during previous times of economic growth will have to be cut in a shrinking economy.

“It is important for the state to learn to live within its means,” Kuipers said. “It’s a reality for us in the state government now.”

Living within their means, however, is a tough prospect for many college students.

“I’m lucky because I have options but there are people who don’t have options,” said GVSU student Shay Tovey. “Them taking away this money means that there are some people who will have to drop a class, they’re going to have to drop two classes maybe.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said before that she wants the Michigan Promise Scholarship – which she helped create – to continue to receive state funding.

With budgets awaiting her approval that do not include funding for the program, it is unclear whether or not she will veto portions of the budget to keep the Promise in play.

According to Kuipers, students shouldn’t hold their breath for the program to stick around.

“It’s out,” he said. “Until you identify the funding source … it’s out.” He said that unless some other state programs decide they can do with less money and are able to shift resources around, there is no room in the budget to fund the program.

On Facebook, a page called “Keep Our Promises: Preserve the Michigan Promise Scholarship!” has attracted over 3,800 fans, many expressing their frustrations.

Patty Hilbert Wilke posted on the Facebook page, “I would like to know which of our illustrious lawmakers would like to pay the tuition for my two sons. This state has nothing to offer but education for our youth and now they are pulling that opportunity. Do they realize how many people won’t be able to pay their tuition now?”

Kuipers said the decisions to cut the Michigan Promise Scholarship, and other programs, from the budget were not made lightly.

“The appropriations people that I’ve talked to and that I’ve watched work over the past six, nine months really struggled with putting this budget together,” he said. “The reality is we had to identify 1.2 to 1.3 billion dollars in cuts.”

On why the scholarships specifically were targeted, Kuipers said: “There was no federal match and it was money that if they cut it was a solid cut towards the $1.2 billion cuts.”

Granholm is expecting the final pages of the budget on her desk this week, as soon as Tuesday. She will then decide which portions to sign and which she will veto. Granholm recently signed the new K-12 state school aid budget, cutting aid by $165 per student.

On the web: Facebook protest page: http://www.facebook.com/keepourpromises

E-mail the author: echuckler@yahoo.com

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