Senate Scholarship Scandal

January 16, 1992

Members of the Maryland State Senate continue to engage in scandalous behavior with each of the 47 members doling out $108,000 in scholarship funds every year to hundreds of college-bound students. It is a lush patronage program that rewards the senators far more than it rewards the students.

A study by Common Cause/Maryland, released yesterday, shows that in just a two-year period, senators handed out over 1,200 scholarships to students with no financial need. Their parents had incomes in excess of $50,000. Moreover, the awards were so modest that few students received major assistance from the senators: the average senatorial scholarship award was only $286 per semester.

While such meager awards are of questionable benefit to students whose parents make a decent living, senators benefit enormously from these partial grants. The more students who receive senatorial scholarships, the more grateful parents, grandparents and relatives there are in a district. That's important at election time for incumbents.

Senators are required by law to take need into account in allocating their scholarship grants. But many of them ignore this legal provision. It doesn't fit into their patronage schemes.

Two consultants told the Maryland Higher Education Commission in 1989 that the legislative scholarships are so subjective in nature and so modest in amounts that they have little impact on student access to college. They also concluded that legislators have no idea of the true financial need of their college-age constituents. They might just as well be handing out housing assistance directly to constituents. It is a $6.4 million patronage scam, clear and simple.

Every other state in the nation has abolished its legislative scholarship program. Half a million dollars a year is wasted on awards to students who don't need them. One-quarter of all Maryland scholarship aid ends up as political plums for incumbents. Once again, Del. Robert Kittleman has proposed ending this shameful patronage grab and expanding the state's main scholarship program, which is based solely on need. His bill has 22 co-sponsors, nine Democrats and 13 Republicans. It deserves support from the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, which holds a hearing on the bill today.

Legislative scholarships are an embarrassment. Too many senators have abused and politicized the program. If members of the General Assembly want to regain the public's trust and confidence, they can start by abolishing this wasteful program so that students who truly need financial aid to attend college can receive it.

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