PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state House gave final legislative approval Wednesday to put $50 million into an endowment for scholarships to help needy South Dakotans attend college in South Dakota.
Many of the representatives began clapping when clerk Pat Miller announced the 52-17 result. Speaker Spencer Gosch, who was a no, rapped the gavel three times. “Keep the applause down please,” he said.
SB 171 next heads down one floor at the Capitol to Governor Kristi Noem for her decision whether it should become state law.
That might not take long. She proposed the funding from state government in early January to match $50 million apiece from T. Denny Sanford and First Premier, the banking company he founded. Another $50 million will come from other donors.
“It’s not a game changer for South Dakota. It’s a life changer for South Dakota,” Peterson said. “Think about those students that this will affect. It will truly change their lives.”
The state share will be placed with the South Dakota Community Foundation that was launched November 11, 1987, by the late Governor George S. Mickelson.
“Look what that has become,” Peterson said. He called Mickelson a visionary. “Folks, we have the opportunity to be visionary here today. This is something, I think, we’ll have the opportunity to look back in five, ten, shoot fifty years for some of us, God willing, and say, We got to help make that happen. I hope you do too.”
The Freedom scholarship would be available to any student who has lived at least one year in South Dakota, attends a South Dakota university or college on at least a half-time basis, maintains at least a 2.5 GPA, is determined eligible for federal financial assistance, and commits in writing to live in South Dakota for three years after graduation.
The Senate voted 32-1 for it just last week. The House debate saw much more opposition.
Taffy Howard, whose desk is directly ahead of Peterson’s, argued against using the $50 million for the scholarship fund. She read a list of the many scholarships already available for students in South Dakota and said South Dakota’s public-college costs rank fourth in the seven-state region. She recommended relying instead on the private $150 million, saying it would earn $6 million per year at 4% interest.
Others such as Fred Deutsch and Larry Tidemann however recalled being the first from their relatively poor families to attend college. Among those in the gallery was Brian Maher, executive director for the state Board of Regents, whose members govern South Dakota’s public universities. Steven Haugaard, Tina Mulally and Chris Karr spoke against the plan.
Karr said the praise on scholarships really belongs with the private organizations and individuals who help provide the money. “Where I get hung up and got hung up for the last couple of years on need-based scholarships is whether we have a role in this in using general fund dollars,” he said.