- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Warner yesterday promised to make higher education a priority if he is elected, announcing a four-point plan that would offer need-based financial assistance to good students and earmark $250 million a year for new buildings at public colleges and universities.
"I believe that Virginia needs in the governor a champion for higher education, and I want to be that champion," Mr. Warner said.
He wants the state to cover the unmet financial need for any student attending a state university or community college who maintains a B average and is in the top 20 percent of his graduating class. Unmet financial need is the shortfall in total costs after a students loans, income and parental contribution are considered.
On the building program, he said hell wait to see whether he wants to use cash or bonds to finance it. He proposed setting up a nominating commission to suggest appointees to schools governing boards, and said he will push for more innovation and less bureaucracy at schools.
Mr. Warner, who is running unopposed for his partys nomination, laid out his plan to employees at Capital One Financial Corp. in Richmond. His Republican opposition is still not settled, with Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager competing for the nomination at a June 2 convention.
Mr. Warners plan will reach about 5,000 students and cost about $5 million the first year, and about $20 million a year when the program is in full swing, he said. He said he favors need-based scholarships over merit-based scholarships because the state probably wont have the resources to do more.
Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, offered a merit-based scholarship plan this year that would have given the top 20 students in every graduating class $3,000 to use at a state school, and would have given other students $500 for each Standards of Learning test they passed at an advanced level. Students would have had to maintain a B average and have a good behavior record. That plan, which the administration estimated would cost $22 million a year, failed to pass the assembly.
Republicans have done a good job of claiming the education issue in the last few state elections, and they said Mr. Warner is just borrowing their ideas.
"Sounds like some good ideas, but I dont see anything new, particularly," Mr. Hager said.
"Hes got a very tough act to follow in higher education," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party. "Governor Gilmore not only cut higher tuition by 20 percent, after a decade of skyrocketing costs under Democratic governors, he also increased higher-education spending by more than 54 percent, which is the largest increase in higher-education spending in the history of the commonwealth."
A spokesman for Mr. Earley said the attorney general has already proposed a comparable building program himself and has been working on higher-education issues for some time.

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