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Leading Republican lawmaker to revive college voucher proposal

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A top Republican lawmaker plans to revive a proposal to distribute state money for higher education to individual students, who then could use the scholarships for public or private universities.

House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, introduced a similar higher education voucher plan last year that used full-time enrollment figures at colleges to divide the money on a per-student basis. The bill received committee approval but never made it to the full House.

Bearden said Monday he plans to alter the proposal for the legislative session that starts Jan. 4. Under his new proposal, money could instead be distributed similar to a scholarship, perhaps based on grades or need.

"It's trying to change the focus of higher education from institutions to students," Bearden told The Kansas City Star.

Bearden is chairman of the House Interim Committee on Student-Based Higher Education Funding Reform Models, but the committee's final report will not mention Bearden's proposal.

The higher education vouchers would be tied to 2002 appropriation levels for colleges and universities of $967 million, compared with $851 million appropriated this year.

Should state appropriations reach the 2002 level again, any money more than that amount would be distributed to individual students. Bearden said it might take as long as five years to reach the 2002 levels.

Critics fear the proposal could divert state money from public colleges and universities to private schools, including those with strong religious affiliations.

A similar program is under way in Colorado, where students this year for the first time are being given vouchers for public or private universities. The plan only awards the full amount available under the program, $2,400, to students attending public universities.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com


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