Hansen bill would clarify state’s Promise Zone scholarship program

LANSING—Sen. Goeff Hansen introduced a bill on Thursday that would clarify the requirements of Michigan Promise Zone scholarship programs throughout the state.

The Promise Zone scholarships are intended as additional financial resources for eligible students to use toward a post-secondary education.

Senate Bill 312 would help school districts and other eligible entities generate the money necessary to fund the scholarships.

“Our local economy is on an upward trajectory, and we must ensure access to as many post-secondary opportunities as possible to prepare our children for 21st century jobs,” said Hansen, R-Hart. “Sharpening an educational tool like the Michigan Promise Zone Authority provides a community greater flexibility to assess local needs and raise the funds necessary to provide financial assistance to as many eligible students as possible.”

The Michigan Promise Zone Authority Act authorized the creation of 10 promise zones across the state in 2009.

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District (ISD) was awarded one of the 10 zones and is the only countywide Promise Zone in the state. Due to financial stipulations as outlined under current law, the Muskegon ISD has been unable to generate the funds necessary to award scholarships to eligible students.

According to Hansen, current law requires a Promise Zone to fund the first two years of the scholarship to all eligible students in the Promise Zone. After the first two years, the Promise Zone can begin to capture one-half of the growth in the State Education Tax (SET) to support funding for scholarships.

Hansen’s measure would strengthen Muskegon’s Promise Zone and increase its ability to secure funding.

To fulfill the requirements in current law and also provide for increased access to higher educational opportunities, SB 312 would do the following:
•    Allow Promise Zones to pay for additional college-related expenses;
•    Allow the Promise Zone Authority to establish minimum payment amounts, dependent upon the financial resources available;
•    Allow a regional Promise Zone, such as Muskegon ISD, to elect to operate within a subset of its constituent school districts;
•    Allow the Promise Zone Authority to attach reasonable, college-success-related requirements to their scholarships; and
•    Provide greater flexibility to Promise Zones in resetting their base years.

“The changes proposed in SB 312 are vital for the Muskegon Promise Zone to begin the process of awarding financial scholarships to eligible students,” Hansen said.

SB 312 maintains the requirement that the Promise Zone Authority raise the necessary funds to provide two years of tuition to all eligible students in a zone.
Last session, the House passed House Bill 5330, sponsored by Rep. Jon Bumstead, and HB 5135, sponsored by former Rep. Holly Hughes. Due to a lack of session days remaining before the end of 2012, the bills were not able to be taken up by the Senate and therefore had to be reintroduced in a new legislative session.

SB 312 is awaiting consideration by the Senate Committee on Economic Development.