D.C. Council Advances College Scholarship Program

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WASHINGTON — A D.C. Council committee voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of an ambitious college scholarship program for city high school students that could cost up to $60 million a year.

The bill would provide students with up to $60,000 to attend college. Students from families with incomes of up to $215,000 would be eligible for some money under the proposal, but the largest scholarships would go to students from less affluent families.

The bill is sponsored by Councilmember David Catania, an independent who is considering a run for mayor. The council’s education committee, which Catania chairs, voted 5-0 to send the bill to the full council.

City students are eligible for a wide array of financial aid, including a federally funded subsidy of up to $10,000 a year to attend public colleges or universities outside the district. The bill specifies that students would only become eligible for the city grants once they exhaust other scholarships.

Some councilmembers have said they’re concerned that Congress could opt not to fund that program if the city can pay for its own college scholarships. But Catania believes the city should do more to back up its investments in K-12 education and ensure that more city residents obtain college degrees. About six in 10 city students graduate from high school on time.

“Given the importance of higher education in determining employment status and earning potential, it is critical that the district act to remove barriers preventing residents from accessing higher education,” Catania said.

According to the city’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the program would cost $95 million over the next four years. When it reaches its full capacity, the CFO’s office said it would likely cost between $55 million and $60 million annually.

There are no funds allocated for the program, which means the council could end up having to find money for it through tax increases or cuts to other services during next year’s budget negotiations with Mayor Vincent Gray.

The Democratic mayor has not said whether he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk. The city’s education superintendent, a mayoral appointee, has lauded the bill’s goals but questioned whether spending millions of dollars on a scholarship program would fit in with the city’s education priorities.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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