Amid so many rollbacks to national programs that benefit the public and most-especially those with greater financial needs, it was interesting and encouraging to see the polar opposite on the state level, and in a very big way -- not just for what the program is, but who did it.
During the Democratic campaign, you may recall that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders advocated for national college accessibility programs to those under a certain economic level. A state is on the verge of doing just that on its own, and it's a pretty notable one -- New York. A week ago, its State House passed the budget that would provide free tuition to anyone accepted into either a community college or a four-year public university (which generally cost between $4,300 and $6,700). This "Excelsior Scholarship" would be available to anyone whose family income is below $125,000.
The budget isn't state law yet, and the State House has a Democratic majority, while the Senate (which votes on Sunday) is Republican-led. However, GOP Majority Leader John Flannigan supports the bill, and it's expected to pass. And then should likely be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, given that he first-proposed the program back in January.
“Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” he said the other day..
Scholarship recipients must be enrolled full-time and keep a certain grade point average and basic number of credits every year. There was also a slightly-controversial proviso added to the bill that's different from the governor's initial bill. It requires that the scholarship recipient live and in New York state after graduation for as many years as he or she received the scholarship. However, the law provides provides for several exceptions, including extreme hardship or graduate programs that occur out-of-state.
The program won't kick in immediately, but will be phased in over the course of three years, starting in the fall with the financial limit being to families who earn under $100,000.
There are three other states who have similar programs -- Minnesota, Oregon and Tennessee -- although those are community colleges only. New York is the first state to extend free tuition to four-year public universities.
It should be noted that a couple weeks ago, Bernie Sanders introduced similar legislation into the U.S. Senate. It seems that given the current make-up of that body, and the House -- and Executive branch, it doesn't seem it major contender for passage. But all things because with a step that makes them familiar and will nice to at least see who supports it on the record -- for actually helping to make America educated and better for it. And good to see such positive action taken on the state level. And notable too, in New York, for not only being Democratic-led, but bipartisan in its passage.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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