Bill to provide free tuition for community college students passes House committee

With a bipartisan vote, a bill to set up a Work Ready Scholarship Program to provide free tuition for students attending the state’s community and technical colleges passed out of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 626, sponsored by Democratic House leaders, would impact an expected 3,200 students anticipated to enter the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) this fall.

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, the bill’s sponsors said the money will come from existing dollars that the governor has put aside in a sort of savings account in his budget.

Qualifications to be eligible for the scholarship include 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. 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.

If passed, the scholarship program will begin fall 2016 and will only be open to classes of students beginning at that time. The bill does not fund scholarships for students already attending KCTCS.

In the committee meeting Tuesday, Speaker Stumbo and others expressed the need to invest in the state’s workforce and stated they believe this is the right way to do that. Along with those comments, some noted the proposed $100 million bond in the governor’s budget and argued the Work Ready program is a way to invest in individuals for a lower cost and without borrowing.

KCTCS President Jay Box said Tuesday that the new program would not offset the cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin to higher education but that he believes the Work Ready scholarships are a step in the right direction to preparing more Kentuckians for the workforce.

After the bipartisan vote on House Bill 626 Tuesday, the bill now heads to the full House for a vote on the floor.

Watch video coverage of the legislation announcement on Bottom Line here.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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