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Future of Millennium Scholarship focus of state lawmaker interest in upcoming session

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: While several state lawmakers say they are seeking changes to the popular Millennium Scholarship for Nevada’s academically successful high school graduates, no one yet is pushing for income eligibility restrictions to ensure the program’s continued viability.

None of the five bills requested so far dealing with the program, which has faced funding problems in recent years due to budget cuts and reduced revenues, seeks to restrict eligibility to those in financial need.

Two measures, one by former state Sen. Bill Raggio, and another requested by the Senate Finance Committee, were requested to ensure continuation of the program.

The need for these two measures will now be evaluated based on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation to continue the program as is. He has proposed adding $10 million in general funds to ensure its financial viability through 2016.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the governor would consider legislation to impose a means test for eligibility, or seek to restrict the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“The first priority was to keep the program whole,” he said. “And really there are two schools of thought in this building and I don’t think there is consensus yet so we will participate in that conversation.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he is seeking a requirement that high school students perform community service in addition to the GPA requirement to qualify for the scholarship.

“It would teach them the concept of service, get them out into the community and make them more well-rounded persons,” he said. “They would network with people, do good things and have a better resume.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said his proposal would require eligible Millennium scholars to first fill out a federal financial aid form. Students eligible for federal aid or private sector scholarships would then use those funds first, offsetting the need for the Millennium scholarship awards.

“We have the potential to make the Millennium scholarship last longer if eligible students take advantage of other sources of funding first,” he said.

If a student was ineligible for other funding, there would be no restriction on the use of the Millennium Scholarship in his proposed legislation, Settelmeyer said.

Probably the most restrictive of the measures sought so far comes from Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he will introduce a bill to limit eligibility for the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“It makes sense to reform the program to make it more tailored to our areas of special need,” he said. “It would be a good incentive to lure new people into education as a way to help fund the education training that we need for new teachers.”

Courses of study critical to Nevada’s economic development would also be part of his proposal, which remains a work in progress, Kieckhefer said.

“As our needs change as a state in creating new jobs, we want to have the educated workforce to fill those areas of need,” he said. “If we can leverage something like the Millennium scholarship to ensure that people are trained to fill those jobs, I think that makes sense.

“It is a subject area test, not a means test,” Kieckhefer said.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the purpose of the committee bill draft is to extend the life of the scholarship.

“I was very pleased that the governor announced $10 million in his budget for that and hope that we will be able to sustain that throughout the budget process so we can extend the life of the program because it is important to the students of the state,” he said.

Horsford said he would not support a change to the program based on financial need.

“I think that the merit based emphasis based on GPA is important to preserve,” he said.

While a separate issue, Horsford said that if student fees are increased in the coming two years as expected, it will be important to ensure there is financial aid available to those in need.

The scholarship currently provides about $25 million per year to Nevada high school graduates who attend a Nevada institution of higher learning. Initial eligibility requirements include graduating from a Nevada high school with a minimum 3.25 grade point average.

About 8,000 high school graduates per year are eligible to receive a millennium scholarship, of which about 60 percent choose to activate their award.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000.

The scholarship is named after the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who established it during his first term as governor.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor is open to possible changes to Millennium Scholarship eligibility:

012711Erquiaga :22 the program alive.”
 

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says it makes sense to tailor the program to Nevada’s specific needs:

012711Kieckhefer1 :08 of special need.”
 

Kieckhefer says teaching and areas of study relating to economic development should be the focus of the scholarship:

012711Kieckhefer2 :11 of economic development.”
 

Kieckhefer says leveraging the scholarship to help develop an educated workforce makes sense:

012711Kieckhefer3 :15 that makes sense.”
 

Sen. Steven Horsford says the scholarship is important to Nevada’s high school graduates:

012711Horsford1 :14 of the state.”
 

Horsford says he does not favor a means test for the scholarship:

012711Horsford2 :05 important to preserve.”

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