Herald-Leader Editorial

Stop shortchanging college student aid

February 28, 2014 

In 2013, according to a report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, $20 million of the approximately $102 million awarded by the merit-based Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship program went to college students whose families made $100,000 or more.

In the same year, the state denied need-based aid to 86,000 qualified students.

This disparity clearly illustrates the mistake state legislators made in 1998 by failing to include even the slightest needs test in the KEES program.

It has become what critics predicted at the time: an entitlement program that largely benefits middle- and upper-income families whose children tend to be the highest scholastic achievers.

Unfortunately, given the popularity of KEES, it's doubtful the General Assembly will ever put this particular genie back in the bottle.

But even if lawmakers don't have the courage to tamper with KEES, they should at least summon up enough gumption to stop shortchanging need-based scholarship programs as they have been doing the last few years.

State law requires that all lottery revenue be spent on education, mostly on financial aid for college students.

Since 2009, however, lawmakers have diverted more than $100 million in lottery revenue away from the financial aid programs and spent it for other purposes.

Since KEES was fully funded in each of those years, need-based assistance programs took the full hit.

The budget proposed by Gov. Steve Beshear would take another $76 million in lottery revenue away from financial-aid programs during the next two years. Since his proposal would fully fund KEES, need-based assistance once again will suffer.

In a state that desperately needs a better-educated work force to attract and create the kind of jobs that can boost its economy, scrimping on education is dumb public policy.

So, even though this General Assembly shows little will for generating new revenue through tax reform or expanded gambling, it should at least put that $76 million back where it belongs and give more Kentucky kids the help they need to get the college education this state needs them to have.

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