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The Scholarship Program Formerly Known as OHLAP

The Oklahoma House of Representatives yesterday voted along party lines to limit access to Oklahoma’s Promise, the scholarship program run through the State Regents for Higher Education that pays tuition costs for low-income students.

Even worse, Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R-Moore) made a motion to limit debate on the House Bill 1721 to 15 minutes. It took more than two hours of parliamentary bickering to bring the measure to a vote, however.

At issue is the income level of participating families – not at the time they sign up for the program, but at that time they graduate high school. Currently, students can sign up in 8th, 9th, or 10th grade if their household income is below $50,000. They have to maintain an adequate GPA and meet college entrance requirements throughout high school, and then undergo an income re-verification prior to accepting scholarship funds.

Currently, if the household income has increased to above $100,000, students lose the scholarship assistance. This bill would reduce that amount to $60,000. What the bill’s supporters don’t consider is that many families begin saving for their children to go to college at an early age. A family whose income improves in a 3-5 year span cannot make up for that lost time.

Basically, this push penalizes parents for advancing in their careers. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what Oklahoma’s politicians believe is right?

Oklahoma’s Promise began as OHLAP – the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program. The key word there is access. For many families, money is still the biggest obstacle between high school success and going to college. Truthfully, Oklahoma’s Promise only begins to address this barrier, once you consider the cost of fees and books. Still, it’s a critical piece of Oklahoma’s economic development.

Decimating the program will save a paltry sum of money for the state. It may be a political win for Republicans, but a cynical one at best.

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