‘Freedom!’ the Senate cried: South Dakota moves closer to a needs-based scholarship

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota won’t be the only state left in the nation without a general needs-based scholarship program, at least not if the state Senate has its way.

Senators voted 32-1 Thursday for state government to contribute $50 million for a $200 million fund that will provide what are called Freedom scholarships.

Investment earnings from the fund will help pay for college educations for those students who qualify for federal Pell grant assistance.

T. Denny Sanford has promised $50 million and another $50 million is coming from First PREMIER, the banking and credit-card company he founded.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck said several other businesses that weren’t quite ready to be publicly identified are pledging multi-millions of dollars too.

“This is going to do big things, and this involves everybody in the state,” Schoenbeck said.

No one spoke against SB 171, which he sponsored, along with 17 other senators as co-sponsors. The legislation now heads to the House, where Republican leader Kent Peterson is first on a list of 21 more co-sponsors.

“I think this is a real opportunity for the kids of our state to go to school, work hard, want to stay here, but just want to have a better life,” Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert said.

Recipients would need be a South Dakota resident of at least one year, attend a college or university in South Dakota, have a financial need, maintain a 2.5 grade-point average to stay eligible, promise to work in South Dakota for three years afterward and pay back what was received if they don’t.

“The requirements laid down in this remind me of the old phrase ‘proved up’ which means demonstrating one’s worthiness of the gift,” Senator Casey Crabtree said.

“This is the great equalizer,” said Senator VJ Smith. “We talk about how do we get young people who come from the lower socio-economic scale into education? This is it.”

Schoenbeck bowed his head in gratitude as the roll call result was announced. Then he stood to spread the goodwill.

“We need to thank the business leaders of this state that stepped up. We need to thank the governor and the administration who answered the call,” Schoenbeck said “I got to tell ya, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously — unanimously — supported that, and they worked their tail off, and I personally think we ought to give ’em a round of applause.”

And so they did, for at least a good 15 seconds.

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