Cuts take scholarships away from state’s top students

EDMONDS — For nearly 30 years, the state annually issued awards to a few of the high school seniors who were ranked in the top 1 percent in Washington. They were the best of the best, honored not only for their academic achievements, but for their leadership and community service.

The Washington Scholars, these top students from each state legislative district, also were given four-year scholarships nearly equal to tuition at in-state colleges and universities.

The class of 2012, along with the class of 2011 before them, still has its Washington Scholars, but none of the seniors will receive the money. It’s all part of the cutbacks to education funding in the state, said Gary Larson, a spokesman for the Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The board continues to present the Washington Scholar awards in hopes that the recognition will help these top students get scholarships elsewhere, Larson said.

The 2010 Washington Scholars can still pick up their scholarship money, about $8,800 a year for University of Washington students, through the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Then the money is gone.

“Would the scholarships ever come back? That’s for future Legislatures to decide,” Larson said. “In the meantime, we hope the honor will pay off in other ways for these students. The Washington Scholar designation still is one of the most significant honors a student can receive in the state.”

This spring, hundreds of students were nominated for the Washington Scholar award by the Association of Washington School Principals. Chosen were 196 winners and alternates: three high school seniors from each of the state’s 49 legislative districts and a runner-up from each district. In Snohomish and Island counties, 17 students were honored.

Katarina Nguyen, 18, a senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School, plans to study biomedical engineering.

“The Washington Scholar money would have been nice and so helpful, and I know that some of these seniors really could have used it, but I know that the scholarship is gone because of budget cuts all over,” Nguyen said. “I look at it more as a recognition of all the hard work I’ve done in high school, and ultimately it’s about the personal satisfaction.”

State Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a member of the Legislature’s higher education committee, said the Washington Scholars monetary awards are a minor loss in the across-the-board decrease in funding for public education in the state.

“It’s not just these top kids. We have a lot of kids not getting the kind of funding and help they need,” Sells said. “Kindergarten through 12th grade programs are not fully funded, and college students are faced with even greater tuition rates. If I had my druthers, we would fund it all. The question is how do we get the revenue?”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

2012 Washington Scholars

The following is the list of 2012 Washington Scholars from Snohomish and Island counties and their areas of study:

21st legislative district: Hao Huang, biochemistry, and Annie Yang, law, both of Kamiak High School; and Katarina Nguyen, biomedical engineering, along with runner-up Louis Phan, biology, both of Edmonds-Woodway.

38th legislative district: Annie Dang, mechanical engineering, of Archbishop Murphy High School; Christopher Mischenko, chemical engineering and music, and Alexa Plant, history, of Marysville Pilchuck High School; runner-up Brendan Smith, engineering, of Marysville Getchell High School.

39th legislative district: Robert Kephart, aeronautical engineering, of Arlington; Sara Rood, engineering, of Granite Falls; and runner-up Timothy Abt, undecided, of Sultan.

44th legislative district: Yi Taek Hwang, biomedical engineering, of Jackson High School; Megan Pryor, biology, Lake Stevens High School; Maegan Nelson, biochemistry and biophysics, and runner-up Grifynn Clay, management, both of Snohomish High School.

10th legislative district: Heather Dale, English and education, of Oak Harbor High School; and Robert Mellish, electrical engineering, South Whidbey High School.

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