Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006
PHOENIX - A bill providing an additional $5 million in financial aid to Arizona college students just crept closer to passage in the Arizona Legislature.
House bill 2626, called the Arizona Work Study Program, would provide funding for 4,000 to 6,000 college students next year. The bill passed the Universities, Community Colleges and Technology Committee, 7-1.
The bill asks the legislature for $5 million in initial funding for the program, which would pair students with local employers in their fields of study, said Rep. Ted Downing. The pilot program would fund the work-study program up to 80 percent of the student's wages, with the employer paying for the remainder.
Downing, who has been working on the bill for several months, said the work-study program will help offset cuts in federal Pell grants. A change in eligibility for Pell grants by the Department of Education a year ago left thousands of students without federal aid.
In addition to the regular paycheck, Downing said, the bill has the added benefit of building a highly educated work force that would be trained locally and encouraged to stay at their jobs after graduation.
House Majority Leader Steve Tully (R-11), who voted in favor of the bill, said "it addresses a real need in the state" of retaining top students locally.
To best serve the needs of students, Downing said he worked closely with the
Arizona Students' Association, an independent lobbying advocate for university students. There are five ASA directors at the UA.
ASA director Chris Dang said he and the other directors were approached in late November with an early draft of the legislation. Since Downing wanted to reach out to students for their input, Dang said, members from ASA and the UA student government reviewed the proposed legislation.
At first, there were some concerns with an early draft of the bill about whether Arizona businesses were firmly committed to the program and if there would be continued funding from the legislature after the first year. But Dang, a political science senior, said subsequent versions satisfied ASA's concerns.
ASA director Fernando Ascencio said he considered the bill a part of their legislative mission to add funding to financial aid for students. His main concern was whether the possible financial funds that came from the legislation would take away from funding from the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, said Ascencio, a political science senior.
The Arizona Financial Aid Trust Fund was established in 1989. Each year, 1 percent of resident tuition is added to the fund, which the state then matches, according to the Arizona Board of Regents Web site.
"My biggest concern was that we didn't want to lose sight of other financial aid (for students)," said Ascencio. "We didn't want it to compete with AFAT."
Rep. Jennifer Burns (D-25), a sponsor of the bill, said she was confident the bill would be signed into law.
"They did their homework," Burns said.
Burns said the bills had bipartisan sponsors who have consulted university officials, students, private businesses and ABOR members.