BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The Legislative Council approved dipping into a rainy day fund to pay for an additional 193 Governor’s Distinguished Scholarships next fall.
The state had enough funding for 300 scholarships, but more students were eligible this year and decided to attend an Arkansas university. Usually about 20 percent of eligible students leave the state, or the country, for college. If they don’t study in Arkansas they forego the scholarship, which can be worth up to $10,000.
For example, last year 412 students were eligible, the director of the Higher Education Department reported to legislators. Only 7 percent chose to leave the state. That meant that without additional funding for scholarships, a record number of students would be eligible and 193 of them would have to go on a waiting list.
The Legislative Council consists of senators and representatives who meet regularly in the interim between sessions, in order to monitor state government operations. The Council oversees activities such as transfers of funds within an agency, to ensure that funds are spent by executive branch agencies in compliance with appropriation bills. Also, the Council tracks significant personnel moves by state agencies, such as promotions and pay raises.
The Council approved spending an additional $2 million on the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarships. Another $12 million will remain in the rainy day fund.
There was a sense of urgency behind the Council’s vote because many graduating high school seniors will make their decisions on where to go to college by May 1, and financial aid packages are critical when students decide where to attend college.
The director of the state Higher Education Department said that he wanted students to know for certain by May 1 whether they would receive the scholarship.
Recipients of the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship are some of the brightest young students in Arkansas. If they graduate from an Arkansas university they are more likely to stay in the state, and over the long term the state economy is more likely to prosper if our brightest students have a reason to remain in Arkansas and establish a career here.
Anniversary of Grant Program
State and local elected officials joined civic leaders at the Capitol to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Community Development Block Grant program. Grants come from the federal government.
Many are administered through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which has received more than $19 million a year for the past few years. Their purpose is to benefit communities with families of low and moderate incomes.
The larger cities in Arkansas receive CDBG funds directly from the federal government and the AEDC administers the grants for smaller towns. They are for a variety of uses, including water and wastewater systems, streets, community centers and senior citizens, child care facilities and public health facilities. Also, they have been used to provide loans to private businesses that create new jobs.
The money can be used to buy property, demolish buildings or renovate existing buildings, whether public or private.
In the 40 years of the CDBG program, Arkansas communities have received more than $700 million in grants.