Legislature gives money for Opportunity Scholarship

Susan Smith

Susan Smith

PIERRE (CNS) – South Dakota students will have a new opportunity this fall.

Lawmakers set aside $1.95 million this session to fund the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship Program. That’s enough for 2004’s incoming freshman and for next year’s freshmen and sophomores.

Those who qualify as regents scholars and attend a state college, university or technical school will get $5,000 over four years. Students will receive $1,000 the first three years and $2,000 for the fourth.

The bill started out giving students $6,000 for their college education, but the House and Senate could not agree on that amount. A conference committee was appointed and reached the $5,000 compromise.

For three years lawmakers have debated a state scholarship program. Last year they passed a law creating the regents scholarship, but included no funding. This year lawmakers were committed to creating a paid scholarship program, renaming it the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship.

“We wanted to reinforce the idea that this truly is an opportunity for our young people,” Rep. Bill Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, said.

Peterson will leave the Legislature following the 2004 session because of term limits. He made it a personal goal to get funding for the program this session.

“I think that’s a very good start,” he said of the money allocated.

Rep. Ben Nesselhuf, D-Vermillion, argued that lawmakers could approve more money and use the two years before it was needed to find the money.

“If we lower it today … I don’t think we will ever get it raised again,” he said.

“Last year we didn’t have any money for this program,” Peterson said. “We’ve got a chance to fund this program this year.”

He asked representatives to approve the compromise.

“Five thousand dollars over four years is a commitment we can keep,” he said. “It’s a heck of a lot more this year than last year.”

The House voted 52-6 to approve the scholarship plan. Senators passed the bill on a vote of 35-0.