- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday promised Maryland students that he would increase state scholarship aid by $60 million a year if elected governor.

But there is a catch: Students found using illegal drugs or committing violent acts would not be eligible for the Free State Scholarship Program.

“We need to expect and demand certain behavior from people if they want to be part of the program,” Mr. Duncan said at a press conference at Morgan State University during which he announced his three-part scholarship plan. Mr. Duncan faces Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley in the Democratic primary in September.

Mr. Duncan did not propose a new revenue source for his $60 million increase in the state scholarship program, now at $40 million. Economic growth would cover the cost as the plan is phased in over four years beginning with the 2007-‘08 school year.

Mr. Duncan proposed creating a merit- based scholarship plan for the top 10 percent of students in each public high school if they attend college in Maryland. Those students could get grants of $5,000 a year for two years of college, or a total of $10,000.

About 6,200 graduates each year would be eligible for the plan, based on current public school enrollment, he said.

The scholarships would help the state retain its best and brightest students, Mr. Duncan said.

He also proposed an expansion of the scholarship program that awards grants based on need, increasing the income ceiling for a family of four from $24,000 a year to $39,000 a year. Finally, Mr. Duncan said he would increase financial aid for students attending historically black state colleges by $5 million a year.

Mr. Duncan’s press conference was the third this week held by gubernatorial candidates to discuss higher education.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said Tuesday that he will increase higher education funding by $172 million in the coming fiscal year. University officials said that would enable colleges to limit tuition increases to a maximum of 4.5 percent for the 2006-‘07 school year.

“Higher education in Maryland is on a roll,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

One day earlier, Mr. O’Malley challenged the governor to halt increases in tuition, which has jumped about 40 percent in recent years to make up for cuts in state aid.

“Bob Ehrlich’s policies have priced education out of the reach of middle-class families,” Mr. Duncan said, calling the announcement of a 14.5 percent increase in higher education funding a “shameless election-year conversion” by the governor.

Mr. Duncan also criticized Mr. O’Malley, although not by name, saying: “A one-year tuition freeze is not a substitute for an education plan.”

Mr. Duncan said some of the details of his plan, including the restrictions on drug use and violent crime, would be developed by the education Cabinet he proposes to establish if elected governor.

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