A state legislator has called for the elimination of the state”s MEAP Merit Award scholarships, the one-time $2,500 scholarships many students use to help finance their freshman year.

The scholarship is awarded to students who meet or exceed state standards on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program mathematics, reading, science and writing tests and attend a public college or university in the state.

Rep. Paul DeWeese (R-Williamston), a member of the House Education Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that oversees higher education funding, said the scholarships stretch Michigan”s budget too thin.

“We are taking $125 million out of the settlement at a time when we are cutting critical health care programs and giving it to wealthy families whose children are going to go to college anyway,” DeWeese said.

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, which oversees the issuance of the Merit awards, the state gave scholarships to an estimated 48,282 high school seniors in 2001, totaling out $32.8 million.

DeWeese said he was not opposed to the scholarships in principle, only that public health could make better use of the money. The awards are funded by money from the state”s tobacco settlement.

The program, created in 1999 by Republican Gov. John Engler, used in its first two years, respectively, 30 percent and 50 percent of the yearly tobacco settlement payouts. Since then, 75 percent on the yearly payouts have been put into the trust.

But Matt Resch, a spokesman for Engler, said the governor still supports the program he first put forward in 1999.

“The governor feels very strongly that students who take their work seriously should be rewarded and that was his reasoning in creating the program,” he said.

John Boshoven, a guidance counselor at Ann Arbor Community High School, said he was not sure he agreed with DeWeese.

“A lot of families in the middle incomes, not necessarily in two-parent families find themselves just as squeezed as low-income families,” he said.

Boshoven said lower-income students usually have their financial needs met by federal grants and loans and said there is a place for merit-based scholarships.

Boshoven said he would prefer that the state used the funds to improve the education of students who are at risk of not receiving the awards, thus increasing their chances of getting a better education and passing the MEAP test.

DeWeese, an emergency room physician, said he plans to convene a health summit in Lansing to discuss the matter and to mobilize support around redirecting the tobacco settlement dollars to health care.

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