A scholarship program started last year to help more people get technical workforce training certificates has been used by fewer than 1,500 students so far, but state officials said Thursday they expect a dramatic increase thanks to a new requirement that many Medicaid recipients must get jobs or go to school to keep their insurance.
The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program started last fall and has used about $2.1 million of the $15.9 million it was appropriated as of the end of February. It was originally created by lawmakers in 2016 to guarantee free community college for all new high school graduates, but Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed that language and restricted the program to those seeking certificates in five industries with worker shortages: health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction.
Bevin also won the federal government’s approval for a Medicaid waiver that would require many recipients to be in school or have a job to continue getting health insurance. It’s not clear how many people will be required to go to school under the new system.
“We are going to come face to face with thousands of people…with the Medicaid waiver,” said Wayne Lewis, executive director of Education Policy and Programs in the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. “This scholarship will be the primary vehicle to get folks to complete high school equivalency and technical certificates. This scholarship becomes even more critical, even more important than it has been in the past.”
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Senate Bill 231, which was approved by the Senate Education Committee Thursday, would write the scholarship program into state law since Bevin created it by executive order. In the latest version of the state budget lawmakers are considering, the program would get an additional $15.9 million over the next two years. In addition, the program would keep about $13 million of unused funds from the previous two years.
The certificates are industry approved; most are offered through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, but some four-year schools also offer certificate degrees. In order to qualify, students must have a high school degree or GED, but cannot have an associate’s degree or higher. The scholarship applies to any remaining tuition after federal, state and private scholarships or grants are exhausted.
Once students receive the scholarship, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, and they will only be eligible for four academic terms. The scholarship ends after the student receives 32 credit hours. Most associate degrees require 60 hours. The scholarship program is administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.
The bill won unanimous approval in the committee and now goes to the full Senate.
Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, voted yes, but said he was trouble by the narrow scope of the scholarship openings.
“There’s nothing wrong with going into teaching or journalism,” he said. “I’m troubled with this limitation of who we’re going to educate in this state.”