ASPIRE gets endorsement for funding incentive plan

By Beth Silver

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX Funding for a scholarship program targeting "at risk" elementary students passed the House Education Committee yesterday, giving students who fought for it last year hope that the new aid is still a possibility.

ASPIRE, or the Arizona Student Program Investing Resources in Education, would create a contract between the state and third grade students.

If the student keeps good grades throughout elementary, junior high and high school, the state would pay his or her college tuition at any of the state's community colleges, or its public or private universities. The student cannot get arrested and has to pledge to keep off of drugs and stay away from gangs.

The House Education Committee's 13 members unanimously endorsed the bill in yesterday's hearing saying it was a way to give hope to elementary students who thought they would never go to college.

"Of all the different tuition programs we have, by far, this is my favorite," said Rep. Jeff Groscost, R-Mesa. "It's hard to come up in my mind with a better program to help kids."

"I like tying some strings to it

so we get the kind of behavior we want when we give money," he said.

About 600 students from 20 to 30 elementary schools whose parents make less than $30,000 per year could sign up in the first year.

Last year, the Legislature approved the ASPIRE program but did not fund it, essentially killing it for the year. Now, the Arizona Students' Association, the statewide student lobbying group, is trying to get lawmakers to put money behind the program so it can start signing up third graders.

Legislators are asking for $300,000 to start the program in the 1995-96 school year. After its first year, the state would fund it only if the ASPIRE commission, set up to administer the program, can get $600,000 in grants and private donations per year.

If the program is successful, the student lobbyists would have to come back to the Legislature and ask for more money. The program is currently set up to pay for only 15 percent, or 90 students of the 600 who sign the contract in the first year.

But some lawmakers, including Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, are saying it is unlikely any new money for scholarships will pass this legislative session.

"We need your help through Appropriations and that's going to be quite a hurdle," Paul Allvin, ASA executive director, told the House Education Committee yesterday. "That's going to make or break the bill."

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