Legislators Debate Bill Lowering Income Cap On OHLAP Scholarship

Tuesday, March 5th 2013, 6:00 pm
By: News On 6

State lawmakers are bumping heads over a bill that recently passed in the house that would lower the income cap on the Oklahoma's Promise (OHLAP) scholarship.

The scholarship guarantees free college tuition to low-income students who meet certain requirements. More than 18,000 students rely on Oklahoma's Promise during a semester.

"I would be disappointed if we had to lower that," said Tenna Whitsel of Tulsa Public Schools.

Whitsel said approximately 2,000 Tulsa Public Schools students are currently eligible for the special scholarship.

Here's how Oklahoma's Promise works: A student must apply for the scholarship by the end of their sophomore year. At that time, their parents cannot make more than $50,000 per year. By the time the kid graduates, his or her parents must not make more than $100,000 per year.

"When they raised the income so that it was $100,000 by the time they graduate, that was a sigh of relief," Whitsel said.

Representative Leslie Osborn's bill would drop the $100,000 cap to $60,000.

Higher education regents say this would cause a 10 percent reduction in students eligible for the program.

"Lowering that to $60,000 could be an issue for many of our learners," Whitsel said.

She said the scholarship is much more than financial aid.

"Actually, it provides them hope that, ‘This is something that I might be able to do. I might be able to go to college,'" Whitsel said.

At a time when schools' budgets are more strapped than ever, Whitsel said this is the last thing teachers want to hear.

"Personally, I don't know why our state would want to limit anyone from having an opportunity to go to college," Whitsel said.

The bill's creator said it's not about saving the state money so lawmakers can approve tax cuts. In a statement, Representative Osborn said it's about helping only low-income families.

If passed, this bill would not affect students who already have the scholarship. It would only affect the freshman class of 2014.

The bill will now go to the Senate floor.