Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bonding bill moves, State grant program review

Yesterday at the Capitol

Senate bonding bill moves forward
The Senate Capital Investment Committee approved a bonding bill yesterday evening appropriating $362.4 million for capital improvements to state and local facilities. SF 781, authored by committee chair Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, provides $90.28 million to projects for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, $50 million for HEAPR and the remaining funds for the 2008 vetoed projects. $59 million is appropriated to the University of Minnesota for HEAPR and the Bell Museum of Natural History construction.

Langseth indicated other appropriations in the bill, which include: $4 million to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, $10 million to the Dept. of Corrections, $29 million to the Dept. of Natural Resources, $25 million to the Pollution Control Agency, $5 million to amateur sports and $3.6 million to the Dept. of Military Affairs.

The bill was approved and heads next to the Finance Committee.

Office of Higher Education presents state grant program report
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy division heard from the Office of Higher Education yesterday about the Minnesota state grants program. Mark Misukanis, interim director of the Office of Higher Education, said the state grant program is a need-based grant for Minnesota residents attending Minnesota institutions. He said the application process is the same as the process for federal Pell grants and that the grants are available for U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens. He said the program distributes $145 million to 83,000 students each year.

Misukanis said the price of attendance is assigned to three parties; students, their families and the taxpayers. Currently, the recognized price of attendance includes an annual four year maximum of $9,838 for tuition and fees and $6,200 for living and miscellaneous expenses. Misukanis said there are external benchmarks for tuition and fee maximums, which include the rate of inflation, the maximum public tuition and fees charged and the general public subsidy for higher education.

Meredith Fergus, also with the Office of Higher Education, explained the calculations involved in determining assigned student responsibility, the assigned family responsibility and assigned taxpayer responsibility. Fergus said that college affordability is a growing concern for students and parents in Minnesota and nationally. In addition, she said the percent of income required of some families to pay college costs may be unreasonable. However, Fergus said the state grant program design continues to serve the state well, but the effectiveness of the program is limited by the price of attendance is set artificially low.

Committee members also considered a bill aimed at helping low-income students become better prepared for higher education. SF 1293, authored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, requires higher education institutions to partner with high schools to promote college attendance, establishes high school-to-college developmental transition programs and revises the achieve scholarship program. Revisions in the achieve scholarship program include requiring students to complete a qualifying program in a high school or home-school program and graduate with an unweighted 2.5 grade point average and having a family adjusted gross income of less than 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Pappas said students must also enroll full-time in the fall term immediately following high school graduation and be enrolled in a degree, diploma, or certificate program. The bill also revises the maximum amount of the scholarship and sets the maximum qualifying expenses as the average total qualifying expenses at the four-year institutions of the Minnesota Colleges and Universities System.

Members laid the bill over for possible inclusion in the committee's omnibus bill.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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