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Millennium Scholarship to receive $10 million in general fund support

By ThisIsReno

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A bill appropriating $10 million from the general fund to ensure the long-term financial health of the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship saw final Legislative approval today and will go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his review.

Senate Bill 486 saw unanimous support in the Assembly. It earlier passed the Senate on a 20-1 vote with Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, voting no.

Gustavson had proposed a bill prohibiting non-citizens from receiving the scholarship, but the measure did not get a hearing.

Sandoval proposed making the additional one-time appropriation to the scholarship in his budget to help keep it funded into the future. The proposal was welcomed by lawmakers of both parties.

In commenting on the bill, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the additional financial support should keep the scholarship for qualified Nevada high school graduates solvent until 2015.

Sandoval received a standing ovation during his State of the State speech in January when he said the scholarship, named after the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, is continued in his budget. The program has been in jeopardy because of budget cuts and revenue shortfalls. Guinn established the scholarship during his first term as governor.

In addition to the $10 million general fund contribution, the scholarship will continue to receive funding from Nevada’s tobacco settlement agreement, as well as a $7.6 million transfer each year from the treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division.

The program has been used by more than 60,000 Nevada high school graduates who have met the eligibility criteria. There were approximately 21,000 students receiving millennium scholarship benefits this past school year. Since its inception, over 22,000 millennium scholars have earned a degree from a Nevada institution of higher learning.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee infused the scholarship with College Savings Plans program funds last year to keep it solvent through this school year, but its future was in doubt due in part to lower amounts of funding coming from the tobacco settlement agreement. The annual tobacco payment to Nevada is declining mostly because people are smoking less.

The scholarship currently provides around $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 Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) says the scholarship covers about 56 percent of a student’s tuition costs at a Nevada university, although this percentage will likely fall as the Board of Regents consider a student fee hike for the coming school year.