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Eye On Boise

Otter signs Opportunity Scholarship bill; backers call it his legacy for education in Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter worked for three years to persuade lawmakers to create a state scholarship program for “adult completers” – adults with at least 24 credits who have been out of school for three years but want to return to finish a post-high school degree or certificate – and today he signed the bill into law. “If we’re ever going to reach our goal of having 60 percent of the folks in Idaho either with a degree or certification, and we’re right now around 42, this is the low-hanging fruit,” Otter said. “We can get them finished them up with their degree and save quite a little bit of money.”

He said 25 percent of Idahoans between the ages of 25 and 34 have 24 or more credits of college but lack a degree. “So this, I thought three years ago this was a no-brainer. It took the Legislature three years to finally come around.”

At Otter’s urging, the Legislature approved both the Opportunity Scholarship bill, SB 1279, and a boost to the Opportunity Scholarship fund starting next year. As a result, the fund will rise from its current $10 million a year to $13.5 million, and up to 20 percent of it can be used for adult completers. That means there’ll be a boost in scholarships for Idaho high school graduates, who currently are served by the Opportunity Scholarship, as well.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said, “These are hard-working folks.” He said once people reach the age of 24 or 26, they’re more willing to work hard in school than they might have been at 18. “They can go into the workforce with better training and help the businesses recruit the people that already live in Idaho,” Kerby said. “This is a good, solid workforce development tool. I think we’re going to see some good dividends.”

Sylvia Chariton, president of the Boise chapter of the American Association of University Women, called the measure “legislation that conveys hope, promise and second chances.”

Rep. Margie Gannon, D-St. Maries, said, “I went back because AAUW gave me a scholarship all those years ago, and I was able to be a taxpayer and give something back to my community.”

Otter recalled quitting school at the age of 16. “I thought, ‘I’m as smart as I’m ever going to get,’” he recalled. But, he said, working on a ranch, he quickly learned that that wasn’t the case – he couldn’t figure out the feed bill for the milk cows, leaving him at the mercy of the person delivering the feed, something he vowed to change. Otter returned to school, graduating from high school at age 20 and becoming the first in his family of 11 to go on to college and earn a degree.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I know it’s been a goal of the governor’s, and I appreciate the governor in his 12 years here. This is really a going-home bill and a legacy for Gov. Otter and what he’s done for education.”

The measure was one of 11 bills that Otter signed into law today; others included the budget for next year for the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the higher education budget. The full list is online here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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