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Ryan Johnson, Published September 08 2012

Flakoll proposes increasing merit-based scholarships

FARGO – North Dakota high school students could be eligible for more state funding to help pay for college if a proposal by Fargo Sen. Tim Flakoll is approved by the Legislature next year.

Flakoll an-nounced his plan Thursday to increase the state’s merit-based scholarships from $1,500 to $2,500 per year, with a maximum per student of $10,000 for high-achieving high school graduates.

The scholarships were approved by lawmakers in 2009 in House Bill 1400, legislation co-authored by Flakoll that also enacted stricter high school graduation standards and increased state funding for K-12 education.

To be eligible, students graduating from a North Dakota high school must have a grade point average of 3.0 or better, a minimum 24 ACT test score and need to attend a two-year or four-year institution in the state.

Flakoll said an estimated 3,000 students will receive the scholarship this academic year. By 2014-2015, almost 5,000 students are expected to be recipients.

Flakoll said the scholarship makes it easier for students to work less, or not at all, while in college so they can focus on “job No. 1” – getting a good education.

The program is only in its third year, but he said it’s a good time for the Legislature to think about increasing what the high-achieving students get.

“The state is in a position where we have the ability to invest in education, which is vital to the future of our state,” he said. “That’s why we need to be bold and look at ways to reward those that work hard.”

The Legislative Council estimates increasing the scholarship would raise the overall cost $4 million, to a projected total of $17.6 million during the 2013-15 biennium.

Scholarship money would continue to come from the general fund. But Flakoll said interest income from the Legacy Fund, which invests a portion of oil tax revenue, eventually could pay for the program once income from the fund is available in 2017.

His proposal will come up at the next legislative session in January.

Flakoll is running for re-election against Democratic-NPL candidate Rick Olek to represent Fargo’s District 44 in the Senate.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587