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Wise pushes PROMISE plan

April 04, 2001

Wise pushes PROMISE plan



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


An enthusiastic group of Martinsburg High School students Tuesday heard Gov. Bob Wise exhort them to urge their legislators to "Keep the Promise" of a PROMISE Scholarship program that could help them in the future - if the Legislature pays for it.

"I think it's a good opportunity for kids who wouldn't normally have that opportunity" to get scholarships for college, said Andrew Caryl, a 16-year-old junior at Martinsburg High.

Caryl appears to be the type of student the program was designed for - he has a 3.8 grade-point average, a father who is a lawyer and a mother who is a teacher.

"My parents have another kid in college and this would really help," Caryl said.

Wise said that most financial aid programs for college students are based on financial need - students' families must earn below a certain income level. Under the achievement-based PROMISE Scholarship, a sliding scale based on a 3.0 grade-point average and a high enough ACT college entrance score would be used to determine eligibility.

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A qualified student could get free tuition at any state college, university or private school. The state's average cost is expected to be about $2,600 a year. Last year, about 150 Berkeley County high school students would have qualified for the program, Wise said.

The program was approved by the Legislature three years ago, but never funded. Although Wise did not mention the source of funding, it would be from the legalization and taxing of gray machines - slot machines played for a payout. Gray machines currently are legal only for amusement, not payout.

The plan was dealt a blow by the West Virginia House Finance Committee Tuesday. The committee changed Wise's original bill, saying the revenue generated by the machines should provide pay raises for teachers, correctional officers, state police and public employees instead of funding the PROMISE scholarship.

The program would cost about $9 million the first year and $25 million when completely funded. About 4,000 students a year are expected to take part.

Les Smith, a guidance counselor at the high school, said experience with a similar program in Georgia has proven it works.

"There's not a question in my mind as to the program in Georgia being successful in keeping people in state schools," Smith said.

"This keeps our hardest working students in West Virginia," Wise said.

Smith said half of the top 40-50 students from Martinsburg High School last year attended college out of state.

"It's definitely a good idea," said 18-year-old senior Josh Brown of Martinsburg. The program is not yet funded, so it won't help him. "But it can benefit a lot of others. I've got 13 nieces and nephews coming up and they could use it."

Wise got the students' attention by holding up $6, $8, $12 and then $20, in each case saying that was the average wage they could expect to make based on the education they had. Six dollars was the figure if they dropped out of high school; $20 if they obtained a four-year degree.

"We moved from $6 an hour to $20 and hour and how did we do it?" he asked. "One reason only - education."

The students were listening to what Wise had to say, said physical education teacher Sophia Fincham, who has taught for 40 years.

"I thought it was well received," Fincham said. "Hopefully they will take advantage of it. A lot of them may not be aware of it. Hearing the governor talk about it may make a difference. They were attentive. They were intent about what he had to say."

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