Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign ad touts the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which he pushed for and helped establish to provide needs-based scholarships for Idaho college students, an area that’s long been sorely lacking in the state. However, not mentioned in the ad is the fact that no new students have been able to apply for the scholarship for the past two years; due to lack of funds, only renewals for those whose scholarships started three years ago currently are being funded. About 450 students are getting the scholarships now, down from about 700 when it started.
In the ad, Otter says, “Now, these are tough economic times, and the Opportunity Scholarship funds give students the funds necessary to pursue a higher education - and a better-paying job. Idaho’s future is bright, and I’m working hard to make it even brighter.” The ad closes with a group of college students saying in unison Otter’s campaign slogan, “Butch Otter, our governor, our future.”
Ryan Panitz, Otter campaign spokesman, said, “It’s definitely something great that he’s done.” Panitz noted that Otter wanted $100 million in the fund, but only got $20 million; no new money has been added for the past two years, though Otter unsuccessfully requested another $1 million this year. “The governor wants $100 million in that fund, but because of the economy there’s only $20 million,” Panitz said. “The governor established the opportunity scholarship fund to help students go on to college, whether it be a four-year institution or a two-year school, and that is actually what the ad says and that’s been done.”
Mark Browning, spokesman for the State Board of Education, which administers the scholarship, said the renewable scholarships are good for up to four years, and most recipients get the maximum of $3,000 per year. It’s a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning students must first apply for all other available financial aid, and the Opportunity Scholarship steps in only after their family’s expected contribution and all other aid are taken into account. The fact that most recipients get the maximum amount, he said, “tells you how big the gap is” between student needs and what’s available. “It’s a great program, because with that last-dollars mechanism you are really getting the people that need help, but it just really exemplifies what’s going on with the cost of education,” Browning said. “It’s tough, it’s really tough. The upside is you’ve got 450-some people that are able to go on and realize that dream. The downside is there’s many, many more that need it that don’t have access to it, because there’s not more money available.”