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Eye on Boise: Scholarship programs need revamp

Sun., Jan. 27, 2013

BOISE – Idaho’s state scholarship programs for college students lag far behind most states in the region.

In response to a question from Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, Mike Rush, director of the Office of the State Board of Education, told the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that Idaho’s need-based scholarship funds are the second-lowest among 15 Western states.

Idaho grants an average of about $30 in scholarships per full-time student, Rush said. Washington state’s comparable figure is about $800. “So we’ve got a long ways to go.”

But an analysis by an ad hoc committee appointed by the State Board of Education said “even the way you’re spending the money you have isn’t very effective,” Rush told lawmakers. “So they urged us to take a look at the entire system and to revamp that. And once we get that revamped, we’re also building in some data collection procedures so we can measure the effectiveness of how that’s working. Hopefully, when we get that whole package put together, we’ll be in a lot better position to ask for money and know what kind of results we’re expecting.”

The state board’s committee, chaired by Idaho first lady Lori Otter and former state board Chairman Curtis Eaton, of Twin Falls, was appointed last spring and gave its final recommendations to the board this fall, prompted by findings in a 2012 Office of Performance Evaluations report on reducing barriers to higher education in Idaho.

Now, the board has introduced legislation, SB 1027, to revamp the state’s scholarship programs. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Deferred maintenance

While a professor lectures to a classroom full of University of Idaho students, above the students’ heads, brown water marks stand out on the classroom ceiling. Window frames are rotting. A corroded and leaking boiler heats a building at Idaho State University, and sidewalks are cracked and crumbling.

All those pictures were part of a presentation lawmakers viewed Friday on deferred maintenance at Idaho’s four-year state colleges and universities. Altogether, UI, ISU, Boise State University and Lewis-Clark State College reported roughly $700 million worth of deferred maintenance needs; they’ve requested $53.6 million next year for everything from roof replacements to complete building renovations. Typically, however, the four institutions combined have gotten less than $9 million a year from the state’s Permanent Building Fund for alteration or repair projects.

Asked about the UI classroom, Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “I think I know the room.” He said, “The question that’s before us is: If these buildings serve your purpose, maintain them. If not, it’s time to let them go. I think it’s an important investment.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chair, said the issue came up during the committee’s summer tour, and members asked for more information. “It’s an issue that the committee members need to be aware of,” he said. “We’d love to be able to address it.”

But numerous state buildings have deferred pressing maintenance during the years of the recession and state budget cuts. “Obviously there’s a lot of things at play there,” Cameron said. “We still feel an obligation to share the problem with the committee.”

Restoring school funds

House Education Chairman Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and Senate Education Chairman Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, introduced legislation Friday to restore funding into the public schools budget that was left in limbo by the November defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. The three referendums were overwhelmingly rejected, as voters turned thumbs down on state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s school reforms.

The repeals by the voters left $30.6 million unallocated in this year’s public school budget. Under the bill, all of that funding would be restored to schools. The House Education Committee voted unanimously Friday to introduce the bill, and it’ll be scheduled for a full hearing in the committee.

Ketchum bans discrimination

Ketchum’s City Council voted unanimously last week to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations, the third Idaho city – after Sandpoint and Boise – to do so. Idaho Falls and Pocatello are considering similar moves.

They follow the state Legislature’s refusal, for six straight years, to consider the “Add the Words” bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act, prohibiting such discrimination statewide.

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