House Democrats announce new “Work Ready” initiative to be funded in budget without borrowing

Before the House comes out with their version of the two year budget for the state, Democratic leaders announced legislation Wednesday that would set up a Work Ready Scholarship Program to provide free tuition for students attending the state’s community and technical colleges.

In a press conference about the initiative, which has been filed as House Bill 626, House Speaker Greg Stumbo explained that the program is estimated to cost $13 million in the first year and $20 million in the second year. As for how the scholarships will be funded, House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rick Rand said the money will come from existing dollars that the governor has put aside in a sort of savings account in his budget.

“If you look at the governor’s budget, he has set aside a pool of money—around $700 million—that we believe needs to be invested now,” Rand said (at 3:15 in the video below). “That pool of money is out there. He has taken a different approach with his budget of sort of sequestering money, we don’t take that approach in the House. We believe taxpayers are paying that money now to be invested for their children now. So we will find the money there.”

The House leaders and Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) President Jay Box noted the need expressed by businesses in the state to have a highly-skilled workforce to fill the important jobs currently going unfilled in the state due to a serious skills gap.

“We also hear from employers the desire to get our graduates through the programs quicker so they can get into the workforce. This does that also,” KCTCS President Box said.

House Speaker Stumbo said there are many qualifiers for students to be eligible for this type of scholarship including being a high school graduate or getting a GED before age 19, qualifying for in state tuition, enrolling in KCTCS immediately after high school and other criteria laid out in the bill. He also explained that the scholarship pays for either six semesters of school or until the student earns an associate degree or is four years removed from high school.

Stumbo said this type of program is needed to ensure Kentucky students are prepared to compete in the workforce.

“It gives them a jump start to get ready to compete in what we know is going to be a very competitive world of the 21st and 22nd centuries. It is estimated that 50 percent or more of the jobs that are going to be required in the next 25 years will require a four year degree. So Kentucky needs to be work ready,” Stumbo said.

As for what the House plans to do with the cuts to higher education laid out in Governor Matt Bevin’s budget proposal, the House leaders were not willing to say if they will completely restore the cuts but said there will still be some cuts in their overall budget. However, they did stress they believe the money is there to fund what they feel are important areas of government.

Watch coverage of the press conference in the video below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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