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Governor’s Scholars program is suffering from cuts in budget




FRANKFORT

An educational program that for 25 years has aimed at keeping high-performing teens in Kentucky when they’re finished with college, and beyond, is facing tight financial times because of state budget cuts.

The Governor’s Scholars Program, which started this week at Bellarmine University in Louisville, is shy about 100 students from last year’s class. The exclusive program, which operates through a mixture of public and private funding, will have to dip a little further into its financial reserves this year, organizers say.

“The budget cuts have made it difficult for us,” Aris Cedeno, the program’s academic coordinator. “It’s just the financial realities of the state – something that everybody in America is facing right now.”

The program, which boasts alumni such as Kentucky’s current secretary of state and a NASA rocket scientist, is starting its five-week summer program this week at the Bellarmine campus. Other groups of students will be arriving for programs at Morehead State University and Centre College.

Kentucky’s governor’s scholars program started in 1983 under former Gov. John Y. Brown.

What began as a program for 230 students has grown to more than 1,000 each year. It’s mission is to prepare some of Kentucky’s top-performing high school students for college and mold them to become future leaders in the state, Cedeno said

Costs are borne by the program, not the students.

But Kentucky is facing tough financial times and economic forecasters have predicted a $900 million dip in state revenue during the two-year budget period that begins July 1. Kentucky lawmakers passed a two-year $19 billion state budget in April that included harsh funding cuts for higher education and other government programs.

The Governor’s Scholars Program was among the casualties.

Close to 79 percent of the program’s operating costs come from the state, Cedeno said. The rest is offset by private contributions to the Governor’s Scholars Program Foundation, Cedeno said.

Students from 118 out of Kentucky’s 120 counties are participating this year, and Kentucky colleges and universities offer different levels of scholarships to those who successfully complete the program, Cedeno said. This year, however, the program will shrink from 1,150 students last summer to the current crop of 1,050.

“But the quality of the program has not been sacrificed. We had to make the decision: Do we sacrifice students or do we sacrifice the quality?” Cedeno said. “In order for us to maintain private donations we had to maintain quality.”

Cedeno said state grant funding for the program will drop from $2.1 million under the last budget to about $1.8 million under the budget that takes effect July 1. That figure could drop further down to $1.7 million if an additional cut of about 4.5 percent takes effect, he said.

State Rep. Harry Moberly, the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee chairman, said the program was a “jewel for Kentucky” and one of the top leadership programs in the country. Moberly, a Democrat from Richmond, opposed the final budget because of such funding cuts, he said.

“It’s unconscionable that we didn’t appropriate the money that they need,” Moberly said. “That’s just another example of the deterioration of some of our education infrastructure from a bad budget – and this was a bad budget.”

Billy Harper, a former Republican candidate for governor and now a member of the state Board of Education, said budget cuts to education have a negative effect on the state’s future. The effect of cutting a program for the “best and brightest kids” might not show for many years, Harper said.

Such cuts “will have a negative impact in the future,” Harper said. “We’ll never know to what extent.”

Still, Cedeno said he views the cuts as a learning opportunity. Program organizers can use it as a demonstration for Kentucky’s future leaders on how to cope during slow financial times, he said.

“It’s not that we are not suffering from the reductions, but we are seeing it in a very positive way and brainstorming to see what we can do,” Cedeno said. “It is money that we will miss and we are already missing.”

Other states that have come under similar financial problems have changed their programs to cope, Cedeno said. For example, some states have started charging tuition or have permanently reduced the number of students allowed into the program, he said.

“Everybody has to deal with these situations,” Cedeno said.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson, an alumus of the program who serves on its board, said it was the first time he could remember the program having to cut back because of financial concerns. Grayson said the program is valuable to students and to Kentucky and the funding cuts should be a “one-time action.”

“The good news is the money is there in the foundation,” Grayson said. “The bad news is that going forward, that will probably mean fewer kids.”


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