Lawmakers are still unsure how they’ll pay for Gov. Sean Parnell’s plan to give to high school graduates scholarships to further their education, but it’s clear that renaming his program didn’t work well.
Parnell first proposed giving top graduating seniors college or trade school scholarships if they did well enough in tough classes, and proposed calling them “Governor’s Performance Scholarships.”
The Legislature approved the program, though it held off on deciding how to pay for it. The Legislature did decide they didn’t want the scholarships named after the governor, however.
The bill passed last year changed the name to the “Alaska Merit Scholarship Program,” meaning the governor wouldn’t get credit.
This year they’re changing it again, in the face of a threatened lawsuit from the National Merit Scholarship Program, which has rights to the “merit scholarship” name.
“They had some trademark issues which we apparently were infringing on,” said Eddy Jeans, education policy coordinator for the Department of Education and Early Development.
The Parnell administration is now proposing the name be changed in an effort to stay out of court.
“Rather than enter into a legal argument over the name, we are proposing calling it the ‘Alaska Performance Scholarship Program,’” said Diane Barrans, executive director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education.
Yet to be resolved is the trickier question of how to pay for the scholarships, which may cost $8 million in their first year and $30-$40 million after they’re fully implemented.
Parnell has suggested setting aside $400 million in an endowment to guarantee future funding, but reluctant legislators have suggested paying for the scholarships yearly as an operating expense.
Tuesday, Senate Education Committee Co-chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, suggested using the Amerada Hess settlement fund be used. That fund, the proceed from a legal settlement with North Slope oil producers, typically produces enough income to fund the scholarships, he said.
It will be up to the Senate Finance Committee to determine how the scholarships are funded, he said
“They may decide pay-as-you-go is a better way,” he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.