- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - The D.C. Council will scale back a bill creating an ambitious college scholarship program to avoid endangering a popular federal grant that helps District of Columbia students defray the cost of attending college outside the city.

The changes proposed this week to the program known as D.C. Promise are intended to address concerns raised by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the district in Congress.

In 1999, Congress created a grant program that gives district students up to $10,000 a year to attend public colleges outside the district and $2,500 to attend certain private schools. Norton sponsored the bill, which expands the affordable options for college-bound district residents beyond the University of the District of Columbia, the district’s only public institution.

Congress has made clear that it won’t fund the program if the city has something similar, Norton said last week in a letter to the council.

As initially proposed, the D.C. Promise would have provided students with up to $12,000 annually and a total of $60,000 to cover tuition, room and board and other expenses. Grants that generous could have cost the city up to $60 million a year.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember David Catania said in a letter to Norton on Thursday that they would amend the bill to make $7,500 the maximum annual award under the program. They also plan to add language specifying that D.C. Promise can’t be used for tuition at schools eligible for the federal grants. The proposed changes were first reported by The Washington Post.

Unlike the federal grants, the D.C. Promise is scaled to provide more aid to those most in need. Students from families with incomes of up to $215,000 would be eligible for some money under the proposal, but the largest scholarships would go to students from less affluent families. Mendelson and Catania noted that there is demand for more tuition aid than the federal grants provide, with district students graduating with the nation’s highest average debt burden.

The council is weighing the proposal as several members are seeking to position themselves as alternatives to Mayor Vincent Gray.

Catania, an independent who chairs the council’s education committee and is considering a run for mayor, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which will come up for an initial vote on Tuesday. Gray’s administration has not committed to funding the program if it’s approved. Four councilmembers are challenging Gray in the Democratic primary, and if Catania decides to run, he would challenge the primary winner in the general election.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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