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Free Community College Approved by Kentucky House, NKY Lawmakers Split

Recent Kentucky high school graduates would receive two years of free tuition at a state community college under a bill that passed the state House by an 86-11 vote on Thursday.

House Bill 626 would create the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program to cover Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) tuition for recent Kentucky high school grads or GED recipients under the age of 19 who complete applications for financial aid, enroll in at least 12 credit hours a semester, and maintain a cumulative 2.0 grade point average, said bill sponsor and House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonburg).

“(HB 626) fills the gap between the all the scholarships and financial aid that is available to a student now and what the actual tuition costs are—it is the last dollar in,” said Stumbo.

Funding for the program—which would total $13 million in the first year and $19.9 million in the second year of the next two-year budget cycle—would be appropriated by HB 303, the House Executive Branch budget proposal approved by the House yesterday that is now awaiting action in the Senate. The first scholarships under the program would be available for the fall 2016 term, said Stumbo. 

Northern Kentucky lawmakers were not united in their vote on the bill. Voting in favor of HB 626 were Reps. Dennis Keene (D-Wilder), Arnold Simpson (D-Covington), Diane St. Onge (R-Lakeside Park), and Addia Wuchner (R-Florence). Voting against it were Reps. Joe Fischer (R-Ft. Thomas), Tom Kerr (R-Taylor Mill), Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger), and Sal Santoro (R-Florence).

Three states have similar scholarship programs, supporters of HB 626 say, with 11 more states including Kentucky considering legislation this year to establish a program for their students.

House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare (R-Rockfield) attempted to amend the bill with language that would create a program structure for identifying workforce development partnership projects eligible for financing should bond funds become available. A proposed $100 million bond pool for workforce development proposed by Governor Matt Bevin was removed from HB 303, the state budget proposal, before the bill narrowly passed the House and moved on to the Senate on Wednesday.

“I think if the Governor hadn’t brought his program to light… we might not see this piece of legislation—so I think a little credit needs to go to the Governor for bringing this issue up and bringing light on the subject of the need to have a workforce-ready population for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said DeCesare.

DeCesare’s proposed amendment fell a few votes short of the support it needed to bring the amendment to a House vote, although Stumbo said the amendment had “great worth.”

“There was nothing wrong with his amendment, and I will say to him and to the body that if the Senate chooses to do something along those lines, and wants to use this bill as a vehicle, we’ll be back here making a motion to concur with that amendment if he is wanting to establish a workforce ready fund and, as we go through the budget process, if there’s monies that would go into that fund and there are adequate safeguards as we would all want. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Stumbo.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Gateway Community & Technical College in Boone Co. (RCN file)