The members of the Utah Legislature should be happy to appropriate $500,000 in additional funding to the Regents' Scholarship program. After all, it is a proven vehicle for getting more Utah high school students into college with the skills they need to be successful. And that is what most legislators professed to be most committed to as they campaigned for election or re-election this year.
"Education" is always at the top of the priority lists published on campaign brochures and websites. But, sadly, it is also what elected legislators often forget as they debate how to distribute taxpayers' money.
As the legislative session rolls around in January, candidates go back to being legislators, and funding for education tends to slip further down the priority list, overtaken by transportation and public-land grabs.
Additional funding would make the Regents' Scholarships available to more Utah youth who take a rigorous schedule of high school courses and maintain a B average. Wording was changed in the legislation creating the scholarship and the New Century Scholarships to make it clear that funding was not guaranteed. But the program promises students $1,000 or more toward college tuition, and that promise should be kept for the young Utahns who hold up their end of the bargain.
The Regents' Scholarship program, in its fourth year, has grown by a third this year, and that is good news. It means many more high schoolers are serious about preparing for college and for careers beyond graduation. This year 1,354 students qualified for the scholarship, with another 378 meeting requirements for New Century Scholarships, which rewards students who graduate from high school with an associate's degree.
The percentage of applicants who qualify for the Regents' Scholarships continues to increase, as does the share of qualifiers 70 percent this year who win the scholarship's "exemplary" $5,000 award, reserved for those with a 3.5 GPA and ACT score of 26. This year the Legislature's appropriation of about $2.7 million did not fully fund those qualifying for the Regents' exemplary award, and the per-semester payment was cut from $1,250 to $900.
Utah's economy, as state leaders like to point out, is growing healthier by the month, with unemployment dropping and tax revenue increasing. Nevertheless, there won't be enough to fund every worthwhile program. But helping hard-working Utah teenagers attend college should be high on the priority list.