Since 1997, the Robinson Scholars Program has shepherded hundreds of first-generation college students from Appalachia through the University of Kentucky.
That 20-year tradition will likely end if Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to cut the state’s $1 million annual contribution to the scholarship program is approved by state lawmakers in coming weeks.
“I’m flabbergasted to be honest,” said Candace McQueen, a Robinson Scholar who graduated from UK in 2015. “That’s helping so many children who would not be able to go to college.”
The scholarship, which pays for tuition plus room and board for 107 first-generation college students from 29 counties in Eastern Kentucky, is one of 70 state government programs Bevin recommended eliminating in his budget proposal Tuesday. The list sweeps through state government, from programs intended to help pregnant teens and teen parents finish high school to the largest state athletic games in the country.
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Bevin administration officials said the state will save $85 million a year from cutting the 70 programs, less than one percent of the state’s overall budget.
Angie Martin, the chief budget officer at UK, said she is sure that current Robinson Scholars won’t lose their scholarships, but she doesn’t know if the program can continue without state support.
“We’re really going to have to evaluate what that means for our students and enrollment,” Martin said.
It is not a guarantee that all 70 programs will be cut. The governor’s proposal serves as a guideline for the House and Senate as they craft the budget, which is ultimately approved by the legislature.
The governor did not have a specific formula when he determined which programs should be cut, according to administration officials, instead focusing on the “value” of the programs.
“Very early on, it became clear that this budget would face significant pressure to fund pensions,” said Woody Maglinger, Bevin’s spokesman. “The entire process included a thorough review of state programs, and the governor’s budget proposal identified those programs that he feels should not receive funding.”
It is unclear how many jobs would be affected if state funding is eliminated for all of the programs.
Several of the cuts were focused on education, particularly programs that help people continue their education.
Bevin didn’t touch the major merit-based and need-based scholarship programs administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, but he did propose eliminating five smaller scholarship programs that it administers.
Among the five are a work study scholarship program for students at five Kentucky universities, a need-based scholarship that helps teachers earn their certification, and a scholarship that helps students from coal-producing communities who have more than 60 credits finish their degrees.
“It was not a complete shock that this was going to have trouble,” Erin Klarer, vice president of government relations with the KHEAA, said of the Coal County College Completion Program. The scholarship relies on funding from coal severance taxes, which have plummeted along with the state’s coal industry.
Bevin also proposed cutting state funding for at least 17 programs attached to the Kentucky Department of Education’s Bureau of Learning and Results Services, including state assistance for the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center and the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Pregnancy Program, which helps pregnant and parenting women finish their high-school degree.
When asked by the Herald-Leader to explain the mission of the Learning and Results Services division, Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez refused to say.
Instead, she directed the Herald-Leader to a statement: “KDE just received the budget bill last night and is in the process of reviewing it. KDE looks forward to working with Gov. Bevin and legislators to provide school districts with as many resources as possible in these tough economic times.”
The cuts weren’t limited to education. They included screening programs for colon, breast and cervical cancer; state tree nurseries; the Kentucky Mesonet weather monitoring service at Western Kentucky University; and the Bluegrass State Games, the largest state games in the country.
“The state is surely a participant in the Bluegrass State Games,” said Brian Miller, the president and CEO of the games. “And while we understand the financial issues they’re facing, this relatively small investment returns millions of dollars of economic impact.”
The Bluegrass State Games, which cost the state $47,000 a year, include participants from 108 of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
The cuts also applied to cultural institutions in the state.
The Kentucky Folk Art Center, which houses a permanent collection of nearly 1,400 pieces from famous Kentucky artists such as Minnie Adkins, Edgar Tolson and Robert Morgan, is on the list to cut.
So is the Kentucky Commission on Women, at a time when a cultural moment sparked by several sexual harassment scandals has opened up a nationwide conversation about women’s rights.
“It’s undermining the impact,” said Kathy Plomin, a commission member and Lexington councilwoman. “Women are stepping up and moving forward and want to be recognized for our contributions and leadership in the state.”
While it isn’t certain that all 70 programs will be cut by the legislature, the programs are already preparing for potential changes.
“If it were cut, it’s the majority of our budget,” said Stuart Foster, director of the Kentucky Mesonet, which serves the National Weather Service and meteorologists throughout the state. “And we’d really be back at stage one and would have to assess our options.”