State scholarship rule change set for 2013PIERRE — Legislators negotiated a compromise Thursday that would make the South Dakota Opportunity scholarship available to any student in the state who scores at least 28 on the ACT college-readiness exam.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — Legislators negotiated a compromise Thursday that would make the South Dakota Opportunity scholarship available to any student in the state who scores at least 28 on the ACT college-readiness exam.
The expansion wouldn’t take effect until 2013, however. The goal is to broaden the eligibility criteria so that home-schooled students could qualify.
Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, predicted legislation will be introduced during the 2011 session to open the program for home-schooled students sooner than 2013.
“It does make progress,” Rep. Noel Hamiel, R-Mitchell, said.
Currently, students must successfully complete a rigorous high school curriculum, have a grade point average of at least 3.0 and post at least a 24 ACT score.
The Senate voted 34-0 to accept the final version of the legislation, HB 1160. The House of Representatives engaged in a brief but vigorous debate before giving final passage, 58-10.
Rep. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, brought the original legislation this year on behalf of home-schooled students.
His proposal would have set the test-in level at a 26 ACT score.
Critics pointed out, however, that traditional school students should have the same option as home-schooled students. That led to the 28 compromise.
Lederman wound up voting against the final plan Thursday during the House-Senate conference committee’s negotiations, because he doesn’t want home-schooled students to have to wait until 2013. He saw his way clear to vote for the bill on final passage.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Lederman said.
The program was created in 2003.
“You’ve got your foot in the door here,” Sen. Cooper Garnos, R-Presho, told Lederman.
The 2013 date was chosen because state government currently is struggling to cover the costs of the existing Opportunity program.
For example, the Republicans’ joint budget proposal that was announced last called for $2 million of Opportunity funding to be shifted to the private and charitable sector.
“Hopefully in three years, we’re going to be in a better financial position than we are today,” Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, said.
Paul Turman, an official for the state Board of Regents, said Thursday that adding the 28-ACT eligibility would eventually cost an estimated $353,000 annually.
He said approximately 100 more students could have participated in the program last year, based on known ACT scores in South Dakota.
Lederman said that only a few and perhaps no more than 10 home-schooled students would qualify at the 28-ACT level in a year. He said the state budget can afford that much.
“We’re talking about a very small number here,” Lederman said.
The scholarship pays a total of $5,000 over four years to an undergraduate college student who stays eligible.