Senate bills propose politics-free scholarships

February 24, 2005|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In support of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposal to increase need-based student financial aid, two lawmakers urged a Senate committee yesterday to back bills that would transfer most or all of the money in Maryland's legislative scholarship program to a need-based fund.

Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Howard County Republican, and Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, are pushing two different bills, but both told the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee that they believe it is time to change how the $11 million in legislative scholarship money is distributed.

Under Schrader's proposal, 70 percent of the legislative scholarship money - which is distributed at the discretion of the 188 members of the General Assembly - should go to the state's need-based scholarship fund, and 30 percent should continue to be distributed at lawmakers' discretion.

Brochin wants to eliminate the legislative scholarship program and transfer all of the money to a need-based fund to be administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"We need one system that takes politicians out of it," Brochin said. "Some legislators are giving it merely because somebody worked on their campaign.

"This is inherently wrong," he said. "This isn't our money. This is taxpayer money."

Schrader's and Brochin's bills appear to have a tough fight ahead of them. Legislative leaders such as Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. oppose ending the legislative scholarship program.

And Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, chairwoman of the committee reviewing the legislation, said it is unclear whether either bill would make it out of committee.

Hollinger and other committee members said the program helps groups that might benefit from a need-based program, including those in rural areas and students interested in particular professions such as nursing.

Critics of the program - which gives a student between $200 and $2,000 a year - say the relatives of lawmakers and other state officials unfairly benefit from the name recognition of their family members and gain an advantage over the average Marylander. In some cases, critics say, voters back candidates who have given their relatives scholarships.

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