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Legislators Seek to Boost Number of State Grants for Students in Need


SACRAMENTO — Legislators on Monday released details of a plan to significantly increase the number of state scholarships for needy California students who keep their grades up.

Representatives from both parties attended a morning news conference to announce the proposal, which they have legislatively "joined" to Gov. Gray Davis' merit scholarship plan--meaning one law cannot be signed without the other.

"It only makes sense now that if we are expecting students to achieve more . . . we make it possible for them to go on" to college, said Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee.

While welcoming the proposal, the head of the Student Aid Commission cautioned that it would help only about half those eligible for scholarships.

Walter Boeck said that this year about 136,000 students qualified for the scholarships, known as Cal Grants. The proposed bill, SB 1788, would award money to fewer than 78,000 students for college at an estimated cost of $77 million.

"This is not going to get every student," Boeck said. "It simply boils down to you need more money."

The legislation, by Senate President John Burton (D-San Francisco), would be an improvement over this year, Boeck said, when 55,000--40%--are getting money.

Backers said the expansion would meet California's long-standing commitment of offering college assistance to a quarter of high school seniors.

California now provides needy students three college grant programs, ranging from Cal Grant A, which can bring a student attending a private college up to $9,400 annually, to a $530 book allowance, known as Cal Grant C. Under SB 1788, students would have to attain a B average to receive Cal Grant A and a C average for Cal Grant B, a subsistence grant now set at $1,410 per year.

The notion of expanding the scholarship program grew from legislators' concerns about the governor's proposal to award merit scholarships to the top 5% of students statewide and the top 10% at any school.

Burton and others say that approach rewards the well-to-do, citing studies that show a strong correlation between family income level and student test scores.

Legislators acknowledged that the governor had not yet signed off on the Cal Grant expansion, which exceeds additional funding for the needs-based scholarships already in his budget. Davis has expressed concern about the cost.

Under SB 1788, award levels for some grants also would increase, bringing the legislation's total cost to about $122 million in its first year.

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