News-Miner opinion: Classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks begin in just over one month. Dormitories will be filling up a few days before that.
There might be a few more empty chairs in those classrooms this year, however, and maybe a couple more empty dorm rooms.
Why? Because Gov. Mike Dunleavy has taken away the four-year scholarships that had been awarded to several thousand of Alaska’s college-bound high school students. And it’s not just this year’s class of first-year students who are affected. The elimination of the scholarship funds also hits those former high-schoolers who are entering their second, third and fourth years of college.
What person in the Dunleavy administration thought this would be a winning idea?
Since when do we take away something we have already awarded to some of our best young people?
It seems terribly inconsistent of the governor to insist that Alaskans receive a permanent fund dividend in the amount prescribed by law but then not to give students the money they earned by following the requirements laid out in the scholarship program. We can take away money earned by a kid for doing well in high school, but we can’t take away money from Alaskans who did nothing but live here to receive it?
Again, who in the administration thought this would be a good public relations move?
The scholarships help keep our young people in Alaska. That’s because the scholarships, which provide as much as $4,755 per year depending on GPA, can only be used at higher education or career and technical education programs in the state.
For fiscal 2018, the most recent year for which accurate data is available, 3,358 students received a combined $11,079,588 in scholarships.
The state Senate took care of the problem when it passed a capital budget Sunday that included an accounting procedure that would replenish the Higher Education Investment Fund, which includes the scholarship funds. The legislation also would restore funds to numerous other accounts affected by the end-of-year transfer.
The House, however, is a bit of a mess right now regarding the capital budget, which is stalled amid much rancor among the factions in the Legislature’s lower chamber. Scholarships remain stuck in the larger tangle of the governor’s budget vetoes, the permanent fund and the end-of-year transfers.
This is no way to treat our students. The Legislature and Gov. Dunleavy surely can do better than this.
The governor can fix this quickly by reversing his decision to include the Higher Education Investment Fund on the list of accounts that get emptied into the budget reserve at the end of each fiscal year. It is that decision that created the problem for so many of our young students.
What can the Legislature do? The members of the Republican House Minority could end this by recognizing the harm they are causing by opposing a procedure that would return funds from the budget reserve to the various accounts, including the Higher Education Investment Fund, that were drained at the end of the fiscal year. Or they could ask that the Higher Education Investment Fund be provided for in separate legislation, which likely would require the governor to add the subject to the list of items allowed to be addressed in the current special session.
Failure to fund the scholarships will leave a long-lasting sour memory that will not easily be forgotten. Do Gov. Dunleavy and his supporters in the House Minority just not care?