In a 4-2 vote today, a joint conference committee of the Michigan Legislature decided to cut funding for the Michigan Promise Scholarship program as a way to help trim the state’s projected 2.8 billion dollar deficit for next year.

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Some 96,000 students in the state receive money from the scholarship, which was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2006. The aid, which students attain by passing a certain mark on a merit examination given in high school, grants students between $500 to $4,000 in total over four years to help pay tuition.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the Ann Arbor campus currently has 6,096 students eligible to receive the scholarship.

Liz Boyd, a spokeswoman for Granholm, said the governor considers the Michigan Promise Scholarship of the utmost importance and will continue to fight for its future.

“The governor is hoping to reach an agreement with lawmakers on a budget that protects her priorities and one of her top priorities is the Michigan Promise Scholarship,” Boyd said.

Boyd said the responsibility of coming up with a state budget that includes the governor’s top priorities rests on the legislature’s shoulders.

“It is the responsibility of the state House and Senate to put a budget on the governor’s desk that she will sign into law,” Boyd said.

If the state’s legislature isn’t able to reach a decision by the Oct. 1 deadline or pass a continuing resolution of last year’s budget, there will be a partial government shutdown similar to the one policymakers faced in 2007, which lasted four hours.

Though Boyd would not say whether the governor would reject a budget that didn’t include the program, she said the administration would stand with those who continue to fight for it.

“We respect Rep. (Joan) Bauer (D–Lansing) for not supporting the recommendation to eliminate the Promise Scholarship and we will continue to fight to retain that scholarship,” Boyd said.

In a phone interview, Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) said she is against cutting the program.

“I’m opposed to those cuts,” Brater said. “We made a promise, and it’s very difficult for Michigan families to find the money to send their sons and daughters to college.”

Brater sponsored an amendment to a Senate bill earlier in the budget process to restore funding for the scholarship program, but it was rejected in a vote that followed party lines.

In an e-mail interview, Rep. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) stressed the importance of the Michigan Promise.

“Investing in education is an investment in our future, and the Promise Scholarship continues to help thousands of families fulfill their dreams of a college education,” Warren wrote.

Warren wrote that now, more than ever, the program is needed and she would fight to maintain it.

“In these difficult economic times, we have an even greater responsibility to help our young people get the skills they need to compete for those good-paying jobs,” she wrote. “Cutting the Promise scholarship is completely counterproductive and unacceptable — I will continue to fight to save this vital program.”

Vice President for Government Relations Cynthia Wilbanks, who acts as a liaison between the University administration and Lansing, said she understands the difficult position legislators are in.

“This is really difficult, and I don’t think there were a lot of cheers in the room when this conference report was passed,” Wilbanks said. “But we all acknowledge there are really tough decisions that need to be made.”

Wilbanks said that she looks forward to seeing the higher education budget in the near future, and that legislators are currently working on it.

“It’s all coming pretty fast and furious, and there are a lot of moving parts; there’s a lot of differing views,” Wilbanks said. “I think there’s a common goal at least of having a state budget in place by Oct. 1.”

The conference report will now go to the House and Senate to be voted on, Wilbanks said.

“(Conference reports) cannot be amended and they are simply voted up or down and neither the House or the Senate have voted so far on these conference reports, including the higher education bill,” Wilbanks said. “That might come tomorrow, so there may be another pickle to this debate that could occur in the next several days.”

Despite uncertainties to the state budget, Wilbanks said she still hopes that a solution may be found to maintain the Michigan Promise Scholarship.

“I’m an optimist, so based on that, I’d like to believe that with the governor and the leadership in the House and Senate, they may yet find a way, a means, a funding source, and use the Promise grants in some shape or form,” she said.

Of the 6,096 students eligible to receive the Michigan Promise scholarship on campus, Fitzgerald said 1,717 students currently demonstrate financial need for the scholarship — as calculated by an internal University formula — while 4,379 students do not demonstrate financial need for the scholarship.

“The U of M is committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all undergraduate students from Michigan,” Fitzgerald said. “If the state were to ultimately reduce or eliminate the Promise scholarships, the University would provide additional financial aid up to the level required to meet the students’ full demonstrated need.”

Phil Hanlon, vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, echoed Fitzgerald, saying it is one of the University’s highest priorities.

“We will find the money to complete their financial aid packages,” Hanlon said of students who were promised the scholarship as part of their financial aid. “There’s almost no higher priority than that for the University.”

Hanlon said that in planning this year’s budget, University officials set aside additional funding for financial aid that could be used to fill gaps for students with demonstrated need.

“We also set aside some one time funds that will allow us to meet some of that $2 million,” Hanlon said, noting that when planning the budget University officials noticed that some legislation proposed cutting the Michigan Promise program.

Students who are eligible for the scholarship but do not demonstrate financial need will not receive scholarship payments from the University if the Michigan Promise Scholarship program is cut from the state budget.

However, Fitzgerald encouraged students to contact the Office of Financial Aid if their circumstances have changed and they believe they may now eligible for an increase in need-based scholarships.

“For students who have not previously demonstrated need, they have been asked to sort of pay that amount up front and then they would be credited that amount if the Promise scholarship comes through,” Fitzgerald said.

— Daily Staff Reporter Nicole Aber, Daily News Editor Jillian Berman and Managing News Editor Jacob Smilovitz contributed to this report.

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