Mich. governor OKs expanding scholarships

Photo: Michigan.gov

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law the expansion of a college scholarship program for high school students in high-poverty Michigan communities such as Flint, which continues to recover from a man-made water crisis.

The law allows the state Treasury Department to certify up to 15 promise zones, up from 10. In such a zone, qualifying cities and school districts that raise enough in private donations can keep half the annual growth in their state education taxes to help pay for scholarships.

Snyder said making sure all students can access a college education is “essential’ to strengthening Michigan’s talent pipeline and preparing them for the 21st-century workforce.

Promise zones were first authorized under a 2008 law enacted by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Expanding them gained momentum in the wake of the disaster in Flint, where drinking water was contaminated with lead and people died from Legionnaires’ disease in 2014 and 2015. In the summer, $2 million in private donations from Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and the Consumers Energy Foundation were announced for a Flint Promise initiative.

Local foundations, school districts, colleges and business groups are still determining details, such as which high schools’ graduates will be eligible and which colleges will initially participate. Snyder, whose administration has been blamed primarily for the water emergency, hopes that $5 million can be raised privately for the Flint program.

What the program covers

The 10 existing promise programs vary, but at a minimum cover tuition and fees to obtain at least an associate degree from a community college. Some also cover the cost of a bachelor’s degree. The programs typically require low-income students to first apply for need-based federal Pell grants or the state’s Tuition Incentive Program.

The bill sponsor, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich of Flint, said the Flint Promise is “more than a scholarship program,” and is a “reflection of our values.”

The scholarship expansion is the second policy-related law to stem from the water crisis, following a 2016 measure that requires utilities to more quickly warn customers if there is too much lead in their water. Michigan has committed nearly $300 million in state and federal funding toward the disaster since it was discovered two years ago.

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