Promises broken: Lawmakers pull plug on scholarships

  • Jennifer Aaby<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 9:56am

Last month, the state Legislature approved a budget that did not include funding for the Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Promise Scholarship Program, letting down thousands of high school seniors who thought they would receive the scholarships.

“There are a lot of students who are relying on that funding,” said Lynnwood resident Denise Wilkie, 17, who thought she would be receiving one of the scholarships next year.

Somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 students qualified for a scholarship based on their academic achievements, said Kris Betker, communications director for the HECB. Some of those students might not have fit the family income eligibility requirement, so the number affected next year likely drops to around 4,500 students statewide, she said.

Denise Wilkie and her sister Daylene Wilkie, 18, will both graduate from Scriber Lake High School in Lynnwood this June.

Both received letters that explained if they meet the requirements, they would each receive scholarships.

Weeks later, they received another letter explaining that the scholarship program has been discontinued.

The news frustrated the sisters. Both are upset they were led to believe they had the scholarships before the money was actually approved by the Legislature.

The Wilkies will still be able to continue with their future plans without the scholarship money, but they can’t say the same for all of their fellow students.

“They’re the lucky ones,” said Scriber Lake counselor Debby Walters. “They have other options these other kids don’t.”

Daylene Wilkie, who plans to compete in either volleyball or basketball in college, has received academic-athletic scholarships from schools, so she will not be adversely affected by the loss of her Promise Scholarship.

Other students, however, may now be scrambling to find additional resources.

Dealing with this, Daylene Wilkie said, is “extra stress that you don’t really need at the end of the year.”

When first created, Promise Scholarship funds were guaranteed for two years, and in previous years, the scholarship money has ranged from $930 to $1,542 a year. Former Gov. Gary Locke created the Promise Scholarship Program in 1999 for low- and middle-income families, and it has lended support to about 35,000 students during these six years.

Promise Scholarships were part of the House and governor’s spending plans, but not the Senate’s.

“It’s just unfortunate that the Higher Education Coordinating Board didn’t see that coming,” said Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, chairwoman of the Senate committee that oversees education from preschool through college.

Career information specialist Carole Lewis assists Scriber Lake students in finding scholarships for after high school.

Lewis also is upset by the way the state allowed students to believe they would receive funding. She said it was setting the students up for disappointment.

“Why didn’t they know this ahead of time?” Lewis asked.

For Cherrol Minshall, whose daughter will graduate from Mountlake Terrace High School this year, this change means she has to re-evaluate her daughter’s financial aid for college, which her family guessed would receive at least $1,000 from the Promise Scholarship.

Daylene and Denise’s mother, Wanda Wilkie, said this scholarship was meant to support students who often get overlooked.

“It’s the middle (income) group, it seems, that’s getting penalized,” Wanda Wilkie said.

She’s disappointed the Legislature will not support the program.

“They’re breaking their promise.”

Herald writer Eric Stevick contributed to this article.

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