RICHMOND Gov. James S. Gilmore III proposed yesterday that for the first time Virginia offer money for merit scholarships to help students attend public colleges and universities in the state.
The scholarships would be based on students’ performance on the Standards of Learning assessment tests.
The education announcements are the first in a series leading up to Dec. 20, when the governor will brief the General Assembly on the state’s economic picture before the legislative session begins on Jan. 10.
Mr. Gilmore made his proposals in front of 20 students in the library at Binford Model Middle School in Richmond. The proposals are the first phase of a three-year spending program for financial aid to meet 100 percent of students’ need for state college tuition. He also planned to add $11.2 million in various programs to help kindergarten through 12th-grade students on the SOLs.
“We are today announcing major programs for need-based money and financing for college. But we’re going beyond that. We’re also offering people in the middle class something to shoot for and strive for also the opportunity to have some financial assistance,” Mr. Gilmore said.
The governor is proposing that the top 20 students in every school’s graduating class receive a lump-sum $3,000 scholarship. The rest of the students would earn scholarships of $500 for every SOL test they pass at the advanced level up to $3,000 to be used at state schools. Students would have to maintain a B average and have a good behavior record to get the money.
The scholarships would be available to this year’s ninth-grade students upon graduation, meaning the governor doesn’t have to commit any money until his outgoing transition budget a year from now.
Preliminary figures suggest the program will cost about $22 million a year.
Mr. Gilmore also is proposing a $5.8 million expenditure this year as the first of three installments to meet 100 percent of the financial needs of students at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
Maryland has a merit-based scholarship that goes part way. The state offers a $1,000 scholarship to attend a two-year school and a $3,000 scholarship to attend a four-year school to students who maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. But the scholarship is limited to families with a combined income of $80,000 or less.
For kindergarten through 12th grade, the governor also is proposing:
n $2.6 million to hire 100 additional algebra teachers a number he said will meet his pledge of 4,000 new teachers during his tenure.
n $1.5 million to allow students who barely miss passing the SOL tests to quickly retake them to see if they can pass.
n $6 million for schools that do the worst on the SOL tests to provide additional instruction time to students who are at risk of not passing.
Whatever the governor’s plans, they are likely to meet tougher resistance this year than in the past, given the state’s financial picture. For the first time in Mr. Gilmore’s term, the state won’t be flush with cash. The economy is still growing, just not at the rate of 10 percent or more it grew last year, he said.
The problem lawmakers face is that Virginia puts together a biannual budget based on growth projections in even years and tweaks those numbers in the odd years. With actual growth coming in below projections, lawmakers probably will have to cut from programs they began or increased in the last session.