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Monday March 19, 2001

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Senate approves trimmed ASA bill

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Amendment scales back increase in financial aid trust fund

PHOENIX - The ASA-initiated bill to raise the state's contribution to the Arizona financial aid fund gained Senate approval last week, but not before seeing a substantial cut.

Currently, the fund takes 1 percent from each student's tuition, which the state matches at a 1-1 ratio.

The original version of Senate Bill 1384 would have doubled the state's contribution, but the amended version scaled that back to a 1.25-1 ratio.

The Senate passed SB 1384 with the amendment by a 21-8 vote Thursday. Sen. Ruth Solomon, D-Tucson, proposed the amendment because she said the 2-1 ratio was not going to be passed and the 1.25-1 ratio is more feasible.

Paul Peterson, Arizona Students Association executive director, said the students brought the bill to Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, as a way to improve the financial aid available to low-income and under-represented students.

Peterson said the 1.25 percent is a more feasible figure to push through the strenuous budgeting process.

"Granted, it's not what we wanted, but it's better than nothing," Peterson said.

Peterson said the quarter-percent increase has wide support in the House of Representatives.

Half of the money in the trust fund is retained each year and half is dispersed to students for need-based financial aid.

Peterson said more than 18,000 students have received a total of $16.6 million over the course of the trust fund's 10 years. The number of students receiving aid has increased each year, and Peterson said close to 3,000 students will get the aid for next year.

This year, the fund will give about $2 million in free aid to needy students.

The bill as amended would provide about an additional $600,000, Peterson said.

Kelly Dalton, UA director of ASA, said she understands the budgetary constraints that underlay lawmakers' decision to lower the increase to a quarter percent.

"Obviously I'm disappointed," she said. "But something is better than nothing."

Dalton said she hopes that in the next few years, the Legislature goes beyond even the 2 percent.

"I place a lot of trust in our decision makers," she said, adding that the lower percentage reflects state lawmakers struggle to fund programs throughout the state rather than a disregard for students.

The bill still must be approved by the House and signed by Gov. Jane Hull before taking effect.