House committee nixes changes to Indiana scholarships

A proposal to tighten requirements for Indiana's popular 21st Century Scholars program for low-income students is in limbo after a legislative committee removed it from a package of revisions to college financial aid programs.

The House Education Committee also diluted proposals that would have limited the number of full college scholarships given to the children of disabled military veterans.

The committee on Monday deleted changes to the 21st Century Scholars program because a similar bill was caught up in the five-week boycott by House Democrats over unrelated issues.

Changes approved by the Senate would increase the required high school grade-point average from 2.0 to 2.5 for a student to receive the scholarship.

Nearly 13,000 students received 21st Century scholarships last school year — up 44 percent from 2006. Those students promised as middle school students to not use drugs, stay out of criminal trouble and receive acceptable grades.

Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, said he was committed to making changes to the 21st Century Scholars program to ensure its long-term sustainability. Dermody has sponsored a bill that would have required a check at the end of high school to make sure students still met the income guidelines for the scholarships.

Dermody said he was looking for a way to put the provisions into another bill in the Senate, which would be allowed under the agreement House leaders reached to end Democrats walkout over GOP-backed legislation they consider an assault on labor unions and public education.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, sponsored the proposals in the Senate and could restore them to the state budget bill.

"I'm not sure where we're going," Kenley told The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne. "The ball is in (the House's) court."

The House committee also removed many of the changes to the college scholarship program for the children of disabled veterans that Kenley had advocated.

That plan would have continued granting full scholarships to children of deceased veterans and to those of veterans who are at least 80-percent disabled. Benefits for others would be staggered based on the parent's level of disability.

Kenley said no funding cuts were planned for the program but that he wanted to make sure money was available for the children of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans groups have opposed those changes, saying it devalues the sacrifices of disabled veterans.

The committee took out all reference to disability percentages and instead simply limits the scholarships based on a few eligibility changes. For instance, children must use the scholarships before age 32, any federal tuition aid must be used first and parents must live in Indiana.

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