Legislature

‘Found’ money could provide tuition help

Low- and middle-income families would benefit

Posted

More than $30 million — money earmarked for education that has been sitting idle for four years — will be freed up to help low- and middle-income students pay for college, under a bill that passed the House last week.

House Bill 1384 creates the Colorado Opportunity Pipeline Fund, which would provide need-based scholarships and grants for in-state college students.

The bill passed the House with unanimous support on April 24. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, a bill sponsor, said the bill would help students who may not qualify for existing need-based financial aid programs, because their household earnings exceed qualifying income standards.

“What we often miss are those kids who are just on the bubble,” McNulty told the House Education Committee on April 21. “The kids whose families make just enough money that they don’t qualify for many scholarships and grants, but not enough money that they are priced out of college education.”

McNulty said that “a significant portion” of the new scholarships will be dedicated to students whose incomes are 100 percent to 250 percent of the poverty line.

The dollars for the new program would come from found money that has been buried in the state education budget since 2010. That money came about from the state’s sale of its College Invest Loan Portfolio, when it was moving away from providing state-backed college loans.

Scott Wasserman, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, said the sale of the state’s loan portfolio required that the proceeds could only go toward tuition assistance, but that the accompanying language provided an “ambiguous mandate.”

“This (bill) transfers the money and clarifies what the money is for,” Wasserman told the committee.

The bill provides a one-time transfer of $33 million to the new loan pipeline. A newly-created board would determine how the money gets awarded.

The bill includes a legislative declaration, which requests that the General Assembly provide fresh funding for the program each year.

Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, a bill co-sponsor, said the bill “is very personal to me.”

Pettersen, who was the first member of her family to attend college, was overwhelmed with the tuition process and ended up paying her own way through college.

“This is something that would have significantly helped me, especially as we see the cost (of college) continue to increase,” Pettersen said. “This is about making sure that some of our most vulnerable students are getting the wrap-around services that they need to get into school...”