Scholarship scam in Senate's hands

March 25, 1993

Leaders of the state Senate have succeeded in killing th best chance ever to abolish the embarrassing legislative scholarship program. The Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee rejected a bill that had sailed through the House of Delegates. The measure asked Maryland's Secretary of Higher Education to create a non-political plan that would make sure middle-income students aren't overlooked when state scholarships are awarded.

Because the Senate rejected this bill -- and because the senators have been the biggest abusers and beneficiaries of this old political perk -- perhaps it's fitting they be responsible for crafting legislation to reform the program once and for all.

Apparently that will be done this summer by the EEA education subcommittee. It had better be. If left until the 1994 session, creation of a reform bill could be victimized by the same sort of behind-the-scenes wrangling that sank the House measure. So let the Senate handle it this summer.

And handle it they will, no doubt. Even the most stalwart defenders of the scholarship scam know it has been transformed from political boon to political liability. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who arranged for the House bill never to reach the Senate floor, said he opposed the measure for being a vengeful response to Senate efforts to kill keno. Yet we suspect Mr. Miller's key motive was to postpone reform until 1994, an election year, so senators on the stump can grab credit for doing away with the scholarships.

That will be interesting, if not downright amusing, to watch the senators twist themselves into pretzels a year from now as they justify killing the program after they went to great lengths this session to justify keeping it.

We only hope we've heard the last of their excuses for maintaining the $7 million scholarship kitty, the only one of its kind in the nation, in which legislators have given the tax-funded grants to the children of friends and well-connected constituents. Some lawmakers have argued, for example, that they do a better job of doling out grants than does the State Scholarship Administration.

Why, then, hasn't the General Assembly tried to fix these alleged flaws? It's their business to set proper policy, not to DTC micromanage to the point where they're passing out individual awards like high-powered sugar daddies. Just as it would be unseemly for them personally to give away, say, food stamps, it's outrageous for the legislators to hand out scholarships.

To date, the senators have been slow to grasp this fact. Something tells us a little election-year pressure will help to bring them around.

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