The Michigan Merit Award program was among the initiatives most significantly affected by Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s proposed budget cuts yesterday. Should the governor’s plan be accepted by the Michigan. Legislature, Granholm’s cuts would slash the awards from $2,500 per student to $500 after 2004. Granholm added that students who had already secured the $2,500 scholarships would not be affected by the change.

“The Merit Scholarship is very important, but it is not vital. Most would agree that it is not a core function of government (because prior to three years ago, it did not even exist,)” Granholm said.

The scholarships were created by former Gov. John Engler, who allocated the money the state received from lawsuits with tobacco companies in 1999 to students who perform successfully on MEAP tests during their senior year of high school. As a result of the non-passage of Proposal 02-4, which aimed to shift funding from the scholarships to health care programs and failed by a narrow margin, the program was a central issue during last November’s elections.

The governor’s current proposal is far from becoming official policy, but does mark a turning point in the debates surrounding the award program, according to David Waymire, former spokesman for People Protecting Kids and the Constitution – a group that opposed Proposal 02-4.

“(Granholm has) initiated that discussion and now the question is how the Legislature will deal with that,” Waymire said. “The governor has laid out a proposal and now she’s accountable for that decision.

The changes the legislature will make to the merit award proposal have yet to be determined, but the Republican majorities in the State Senate and House is likely to reduce the severity of Granholm’s measures.

“We saw that as a proper role of government to help families with funding for education,” said Bill Nowling, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming). “We believe making an investment in the next generation – who are going to be taxpayers, entrepreneurs, school teachers and leaders – is worthwhile.”

Several new financial aid initiatives will partially compensate for the cuts, shifting the focus of Michigan’s financial aid programs from merit-based to need-based.

“I think you’ve got to look at the Merit Award Scholarships in hand with (Granholm’s) new need-based financial aid program,” said Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan.

“With the limited amount of dollars the state has, she wants to direct the majority of those dollars to the students who need it most,” Boulus added.

Students at the University already receiving the merit awards expressed various reactions to news of the proposed cuts as well as differing opinions about the importance of the scholarships themselves.

“I really disagree with the whole merit scholarship program in the first place, because it’s basically a bribe to do well on the testing,” LSA freshman Michael Carroll said. “I think they should either get rid of the money or get rid of the testing, period.”

LSA freshman Brooke Turnes favored the award program and noted the effects the cuts would have on incoming students.

“I thought it was a good way to spend the money by putting it towards the future. My mom’s going to be mad because my brother is going to come here,” Turnes said.

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