More than 45 days after the start of the state’s fiscal year, state politicians and college administrators alike are still facing pressure from students and parents demanding answers about the elimination of the popular, merit-based Michigan Promise Scholarship.

In a series of interviews yesterday, lawmakers and University administrators discussed the future of the program, signaling that while it may currently lay as a casualty of the prolonged budget fight in Lansing, it remains a hot issue for both groups.

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who vowed late last month to continue fighting for the program, made no secret of her intentions in a conference call with college media outlets last week. During the call, she urged college students to join together, “rise up,” and push state legislators to restore the Promise Scholarship program.

“We need students to know that this fight is on and that we can win it and that these legislators are persuadable,” Granholm said on the call, “but they won’t be persuaded if we’re quiet.”

As part of her effort, Granholm is currently in the middle of a campaign in which she is visiting several universities across the state to rally support for the restoration of the scholarship. She visited Michigan State University on Wednesday and is expected to speak at Eastern Michigan University on Monday.

As part of her tour, a stop at the University of Michigan’s flagship campus was originally on Granholm’s schedule. However, a representative for Granholm told The Michigan Daily yesterday the governor’s visit has since been removed from her agenda.

In her call last week, Granholm told college media outlets that funding to restore the Promise Scholarship could easily be derived from slowing the implementation of the Earned Income Tax Credit — a move she said could provide more than $150 million in savings for the state.

Asked about Granholm’s plan, State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D–Lyndon Twp.) told the Daily yesterday such measures would only delay the problem.

“It’s a one-time shot,” Byrnes said of Granholm’s plan. “We’ve been doing one-time fixes all along and that really doesn’t address the problem.”

The problem is a daunting one. In the final budget signed by Granholm, many programs, like the Promise Scholarship, were cut to help balance the state’s budget from a $1.9 billion deficit.

Despite significant trimming to the state’s pocketbook, projections for next year’s state budget already include a $1.4 billion deficit — meaning more cuts to state services will need to be made or additional revenue will need to be generated.

As a solution to these budget woes, Byrnes said legislators should look into larger-scale changes that would more adequately address the problem, instead of pushing the problem further down the road.

“I think we need to be looking at overall tax reform that would require a ballot initiative or would have to be passed by two-thirds of the legislature,” Byrnes said. “If that fails you would have a referendum, a ballot initiative, where people would want to put it on the ballot.”

Byrnes added, if the program is restored, she thinks the Michigan Promise Scholarship may shift to a need-based program in the future.

“Right now, somebody’s family who earns $200,000 versus someone whose family earns $30,000 — they’re all entitled to the same money,” Byrnes said. “Because our money is restricted or so tight now, some people are suggesting we should make it needs-based and academic-based as well, based on your abilities.”

In a statement released yesterday, Vice President for Government Relations Cynthia Wilbanks wrote that though the state scholarship program has been eliminated, she believes it is still possible for the program to be restored in the near future.

“There’s always a chance,” Wilbanks wrote. “Discussions continue in Lansing on a number of priorities that both legislators and the governor would still like to address this year.”

However, Wilbanks acknowledged that identifying a funding source may be difficult in the state’s tough economy.

“The key to bringing back the scholarships or any other program is identifying the revenue to support them,” Wilbanks wrote. “Gov. Jennifer Granholm and other elected officials are urging the public and students to contact their legislators to support a revenue plan to fund the program.”

Regardless of what happens in Lansing, administrators at the University say they are already planning for how they will accommodate student financial aid next year if the Promise Scholarship is not restored.

Wilbanks released revised estimates yesterday that 6,172 students at the University would have been eligible for the Michigan Promise Scholarship this year — of whom 1,984 demonstrate financial need for the scholarship, while 4,188 do not.

In an interview yesterday, Provost Teresa Sullivan re-emphasized the University’s commitment to meeting the full demonstrated financial need for all in-state students, despite the Michigan Promise Scholarship’s elimination.

“We did cover this year the students who had financial need who had Promise Scholarships and we’ll just go forward with that,” Sullivan said. “If you are a Michigan resident, we will meet full demonstrated need. We’re not backing off of that promise.”

After finishing her comment, Sullivan laughed and said it would probably be more appropriate for her to use the word “commitment” than “promise.”

More than 96,000 college students across the state were set to receive money from scholarship program, which provides $500 to $4,000 — as determined by a standardized test taken in high school — over the course of four years of higher education to offset tuition. If the program had been continued, it would have cost the state approximately $100 million this year.

–Daily Staff Reporter Nicole Aber contributed to this report.

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