Scholarship plan given little hope Legislators say Glendening proposal would cost too much

Good 'incentive,' backers say

Hoffman keeps door open for 2nd look in 1998

February 13, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed college scholarship program for low- and middle-income Maryland families is too costly and is unlikely to pass the General Assembly this year, key legislators said yesterday.

The lawmakers said it is all but certain that the legislature will kill the HOPE scholarship proposal, but they left open the possibility that the matter could be studied after the assembly adjourns in April and reconsidered next year.

"The general sentiment in the assembly among the people who worry about money is this idea may need some study because of the [financial] implications," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Budget Committee, which would have to approve funding for the bill.

The HOPE idea is a high-profile part of the governor's ambitious legislative agenda, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the state cannot afford the scholarship program if it is also going to cut the income tax, as Glendening and many legislators have proposed.

"If you're going to put a tax cut through, how in the world can we afford some of these other programs?" said Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat.

The legislators made their comments on the same day that state officials, students and several university presidents were trying to sell the proposed college scholarship to the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Patterned on a Georgia program, the proposal would give scholarships to any Maryland student who maintained a "B" average in high school and continued to do so in college, and whose family's annual income was less than $60,000.

The student would have to attend a Maryland college, public or private. The scholarship would be the equivalent of a year's tuition and fees at the University of Maryland College Park -- about $4,700 next year.

"This is based on rewarding students who are good, who will work hard," said Patricia S. Florestano, Maryland's secretary of higher education. "It would be a marvelous incentive for students."

"We want a child to feel, 'If I work hard, I can get a scholarship,' " said Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

But legislators fear the scholarships would be too expensive.

The Glendening administration has estimated that the HOPE program would cost the state about $48 million a year once it was fully in effect, but legislative analysts say the annual cost could reach $100 million or more if the administration has underestimated the number of students who would qualify.

"The feedback that members of the House are giving me is that they question the affordability of it and the advisability of it," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

Fueling some opposition to the proposal, Taylor said, is that President Clinton has proposed a federal HOPE program that would give students' families tax breaks. Many Maryland lawmakers would rather see the federal government take the lead, Taylor said.

The president mentioned Glendening's proposal and his own when he addressed the General Assembly on Monday.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, who listened to the testimony on the HOPE scholarships yesterday, said he likes the concept but is worried about how to pay for it.

"It's a great idea, but I don't know where the $45 million is going to come from," said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Hoffman said she would like to take a long look at the HOPE proposal after the legislature adjourned and would bring it up again next year. She said it might be possible to take money from existing need-based scholarships and funnel it into a HOPE program.

"I think good ideas eventually happen," she said.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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