Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:42 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stedman: No big changes to scholarship bill

The Associated Press

JUNEAU — The co-chair of the state Senate Finance Committee said Tuesday that he doesn't anticipate major changes to a scholarship funding bill that Gov. Sean Parnell says alters the terms for achieving merit scholarships.

Sen. Bert Stedman said a provision on GED tests will remain in the measure, despite criticism from Parnell. The committee only plans "wordsmithing" on the current bill, the Sitka Republican added.

Parnell had proposed a fund to provide long-term support for Alaska Performance Scholarships, a pet project that he considers key to raising expectations for students and helping transform a public education system marred by lackluster graduation rates, truancy and dropouts.

The Legislature last year approved $400 million to seed the fund, but the bill to establish the fund stalled in the Senate.

Earlier this session, the Finance Committee added provisions that Parnell considered problematic, including letting students who take a high school equivalency exam qualify for scholarships and calling for the state education department to waive course requirements if that portion of the curriculum isn't available in a student's home district.

Parnell pulled his support over those changes. He said he asked the committee to hold the bill, and that he talked with members to see if those provisions could be removed.

Stedman said that the Legislature is separate from the executive branch and that he'd like to pass the bill from committee and let the process play out.

If the bill were to pass the Senate, it would likely end up in a conference committee with House and Senate negotiators.

While waiting for the fund to be established, Parnell has proposed one-year funding for scholarships. His request, $8 million, was included in the operating budget passed by the House last week. The Senate is currently considering the bill.

As for the ongoing viability of the program, Parnell said Alaskans have deserved this opportunity, and he will keep fighting for it.