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Nurture PROMISE program with new sources of funding

December 27, 2005

Leaders of West Virginia's House and Senate education committee this week said that West Virginia's PROMISE college scholarship program is like a small child - too young to put too many restrictions on it.

We agree. Instead of capping PROMISE, which rewards students who earn good grades in high school, lawmakers should be looking for other ways to fund it.

The program is in its fourth year. Although the legislature created it in 1999, it wasn't funded until 2001, when certain groups were allowed to run video-lottery machines.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the state's share of that money for the fiscal year that ended June 30 was $124 million. But not all of that cash goes to PROMISE.

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A share of that might have been enough, had PROMISE's cost stayed at the $27 million level predicted for this year. But now state officials say that by 2008, program costs will hit $42 million annually.

Surprisingly, PROMISE's own board voted 9-4 to cap program costs. The cap on individual awards would depend on how much the program was granted in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The other possibility being discussed is raising the standards, as was done in 2003.

Based on action taken then, students must now have a 3.0 average in high school and a composite score of 21 on the ACT college entrance exam or a combined score of 1,000 on the SAT.

Robert Plymale, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told AP that because the first group of PROMISE scholars would graduate this year, the state would begin to get data about whether the program was keeping more young West Virginians from leaving the state.

Two possibilities occur to us. The first is that the state might look at additional ways to raise money for PROMISE. A campaign to encourage corporate donations would be one possibility and a state lottery game with proceeds dedicated to PROMISE would be another.

In 2002, the West Virginia Roundtable, a combination of gubernatorial appointees and representatives of private business, released "A Vision Shared," a plan for the state's future.

No. 1 on its list was improving the state's "intellectual infrastructure." Without a stronger commitment to education, the group said, the state will not make progress.

Now is the time to commit to education, not by strangling this healthy toddler in its bed, but by nurturing it with new funds.

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