Inspire program will provide tuition for 140 students this year.
In a special one-day fall session Sept. 21, the Delaware Senate voted unanimously for the passage of a bill creating a publicly funded scholarship program for in-state high school graduates who attend Delaware State University.
House Bill 399 creates the Delaware State Inspire Scholarship, which pays for six semesters of tuition toward a four-year degree at the Dover institution. To be eligible, a student must be state resident and have graduated from a Delaware high school with a grade point average of at least 2.75.
In order to continue receiving the money, each Inspire student is required to complete 10 hours of community service per semester.
Gov. Jack Markell supports the measure and will schedule a bill signing in the coming weeks.
Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the Inspire scholarship is as significant to Delaware as the G.I. Bill or the Pell Grant program are to the nation at large.
“It’s really about investing in our future,” he said. “It’s not spending money, it’s investing.”
The Inspire program is modeled on the successful SEED Scholarship created under Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, which covers associate’s degree tuition at the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical & Community College for in-state graduates with GPAs of at least 2.5.
DSU is not covered by the SEED program because it doesn’t offer any two-year degrees.
The scholarship will be funded with $885,000 in federal stimulus money DSU was authorized to spend on the program through language in the annual Grant-in-Aid bill.
DSU has identified 140 incoming freshman who will receive the money retroactively, since the semester has already started.
The scholarship will cost a total of $372,000 this fiscal year and an estimated $707,000 next year.
Once the initial stimulus funding for the program is exhausted, it will be up to the General Assembly to decide if the scholarship continues to get state money.
Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, lead sponsor of HB 399, said he’s confident the scholarship will receive the funding it needs, even if the state’s budget situation remains as tight as it’s been in recent years.
“The message we’re sending to our students is that in tough times, we continue to look to the future,” he said.
DSU President Dr. Harry L. Williams said the Inspire program is a big boost for an institution struggling to retain students through graduation.
“It means a lot. It’s going to help our university provide opportunity to Delawareans. It also provides them with another option,” he said. “It’s going to change lives.”
Some senators did raise questions about how the effectiveness of the scholarship could be measured, particularly in terms of graduation rates.
Sen. F. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, urged legislators to “put some teeth in” the accountability provisions of the Inspire and SEED programs alike, and warned, “Otherwise, we’re throwing money out the window.”
Williams said Simpson’s suggestion is one his institution aims to implement on its own.
“I agree we have to do that, we have to be accountable,” he said. “We will be able to provide the appropriate data.”
Even though the vote on the bill was unanimous among the chamber’s 21 members, the actions of one senator earlier this year nearly killed the measure.
House Bill 399, passed the House unanimously June 30, the final day of the regular 2010 legislative session.
However, Sen. President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca, D-Varlano, refused to bring the Inspire bill to the floor of his chamber for a vote, saying it wasn’t appropriate to push such an important measure through in the waning hours of the session.
In the following days, DeLuca took heavy criticism for his decision not to take action on the popular measure. He then agreed to have the Senate Education Committee consider the bill in a highly unusual recess hearing, then bring the bill to the chamber for a vote on the day it would meet to act on gubernatorial appointments.
After the Senate passed the bill, DeLuca defended his decision not to vote on it before the close of the regular session.
He said holding HB 399 up was a matter of adhering to the tenants of open government.
“Every single thing that’s in the Bond Bill, the budget or the Grant-in-Aid bill should be vetted in public,” he said. “I’d make the same decision today.”
Williams said he’s happy with the end result and understands why DeLuca acted the way he did.
“We just got caught up in the political process,” he said. “There’s no ill will.”
Email Doug Denison at email@example.com.