Less than a week after the Oklahoma Senate passed legislation to provide a stable revenue source for a popular scholarship program currently out of money, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 75-25 to expand that same program.

Both measures — one by a Republican House member and the other by the Senate’s Democratic leader — come on the heels of an announcement made earlier this month saying the scholarship program had exhausted its funding.

Originally known as the Oklahoma Higher Education Access Program (OHLAP) and now called “Oklahoma’s Promise,” the program pays the tuition of college students from families earning less than $50,000 per year. To quality, a student must take a rigorous college curriculum, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and exhibit good behavior.

However, the scholarship’s popularity has proven difficult for lawmakers.

Growing from just a few hundred students in the early 1990s, OHLAP is expected to cost $18 million for the 2006-07 year and more than $41.7 million by 2007-08. By 2010 program costs are expected to exceed $60 million per year.

Currently, about 15,000 students are attending college on Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. More than 30,000 middle and high school students have enrolled in the program.

Earlier this month, state regents warned lawmakers of a potential funding shortfall for the current semester and temporarily suspended “any further payments of claims for spring semester scholarship awards.”

Following the regents’ announcement, Senate Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, pushed legislation through the Senate to create a permanent funding source for the program.

Senate Bill 820 requires the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to certify the amount needed to fund the program in the coming fiscal year each November. The funds would then be set aside when the State Board of Equalization meets in December and February.

“This legislation will assure that every student who qualifies for an Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship will receive their scholarship,” he said.

In addition, Morgan said lawmakers would work to ensure the program is funded for the current year.

“I am confident the Legislature will provide a supplemental appropriation and these students will receive their scholarships. Passage of this legislation will mean we won’t have to have this discussion in the future. Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships will get funded first,” he said.

Morgan’s measure passed the state Senate 47-0.

This week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to expand the program.

House members voted 75-25 for House Bill 1299, by Rep. Randy Terrill, which adds students schooled at home to those eligible for an Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship.

Terrill estimated the cost of adding home schooled students to the system at $69,000 for the next fiscal year, and $348,000 by FY 2010.

“It’s only fair that all Oklahoma students have the chance to apply for these scholarships,” Terrill, R-Moore, said. “There’s no reason to discriminate against any qualified student and every new college graduate we generate in Oklahoma is a key component of future economic growth and job creation.”

Still, lawmakers remain concerned about expanding the program further.

Earlier proposals to increase the program’s income level from $50,000 to $75,000 have failed to make it to the governor’s desk.

“I don’t think anyone knows how it will go,” said Robin Maxey, a spokesman for Morgan. “All of those things will come down to finding the money. There are a number of issues like that around here right now, and it will all depend on budget negotiations.”

While Maxey said Morgan will “look at all options” to send more Oklahoma kids to college, the state’s budget is limited. “Again, it’s all about priorities,” he said.

Members of both houses have until this Thursday to act on legislation originating from that house. Next week, Terrill’s bill will go to the Senate for action, while Morgan’s proposal will be reviewed by House members.

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