Clean drug tests could net scholarships

BOISE – Idaho teens soon may have another test to worry about if they want the state’s help paying for college.

A urine test.

The Idaho House voted 55-14 on Tuesday in favor of House Bill 503, which would create a pilot project to give scholarships to students who agree to stay free of drugs, alcohol and tobacco – and prove it through random drug testing.

“With this legislation, it is our hope that Idaho’s children will say, ‘I can’t do drugs with you, I can’t drink alcohol with you, I can’t smoke with you, I want to keep my scholarship – it is the key to my future,’ ” said Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House, “I can’t think of a better message for this Legislature to send.”

Opponents disagreed. “What’s next – will we bribe kids with scholarship money if they don’t rob a bank or steal a car?” asked Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis.

But Block said, “Positive reinforcement works.” A former kindergarten teacher, she noted that she used it often in the classroom. “Scholarships encourage students to make choices,” Block told the House.

The two-year, $1,000-a-year scholarship would be available only to students at three high schools starting in 2009. Some representatives objected that other qualifying students would be left out, but Block noted that she promoted a similar scholarship to be offered statewide twice before – in 2004 and 2006. Both times the bill passed the House but failed in the Senate.

“That is why I have pared it down to a pilot project,” she said.

The scholarships would be for students who earn at least a 2.5 grade-point average or a score of at least 20 on the ACT. Recipients would be expected to refrain from using drugs, alcohols and tobacco through college, though the random drug testing wouldn’t continue beyond their senior year of high school. A DUI or drug possession charge in college, however, would end the scholarship.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, told the House, “I’m going to vote against this bill. I think the issue is the relationship between parents and children. By throwing money at it, I think it might undermine the relationship between parents and children.”

During an earlier hearing on the bill, Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “To me it’s refreshing to finally reward the normal kid. We do reward the poor; if they don’t have enough money they get scholarships to go to school. And we reward the straight-A student.” But, he said, the state does “nothing for the normal kid.”

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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