November 19, 2009/Detroit Free Press
By Chris Christoff and Robin Erb, Free Press Staff Writers
Gov. Jennifer Granholm stepped up her campaign Wednesday to put public pressure on the Senate -- especially Senate Republicans -- to restore the Michigan Promise Scholarship program, which was eliminated in the new state budget.
Among her tactics: a letter sent to 348,000 high school and college students who have qualified for the grants, faulting the Legislature for killing the scholarship. The letter urged them to contact their state senators to tell them to restore the funding, and included a Web address and phone number.
The letters were mailed at a bulk-rate cost of $118,000, said Liz Boyd, a Granholm spokeswoman.
At a rally at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Granholm told about 200 who gathered: "This is critical for the legislators, who you and your families hired, to hear from you and your families. All across the state of Michigan, students can make their voices heard."
Granholm said lawmakers should return after Thanksgiving to approve changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income taxpayers that would produce much of the $120 million that would fully restore the Promise Scholarship program.
A problem with the plan?
Matt Marsden, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the income-tax change Granholm supports was approved by the Senate last month to add more money to K-12 public schools. That plan was linked to a cut in the state business tax and has not been approved by the House.
"We wish we had the resources to provide the Promise grant. Presently, we do not," Marsden said. "There are other more-pressing needs now."
Senate Republicans dispute Granholm's claim that revenue from the EITC change cannot be used for K-12 schools but could be used for the college scholarship program.
MSU and others to the rescue
Meanwhile, MSU announced it would help cover some of the Promise Scholarship money that was cut to about 8,100 students. The neediest would get the most, and the money is to come from federal stimulus funds.
Val Meyers, associate director of MSU financial aid, stressed that the money is onetime aid, and that the university is not covering funds lost through any of the other scholarships the state eliminated or reduced. Between cuts to close the budget deficit and the phasing out of one program, almost $139 million less in scholarship funds will be available to Michigan students this year.
Some schools are scrambling to figure out ways to make up the difference.
Ferris State University also will use stimulus funds to help students such as Paula Getzmeyer, 18, of Ortonville, who has been told that she will receive $1,100 to make up for a semester's worth of the Promise and Competitive grants -- both state funds -- that she had expected earlier this year.
That help from Ferris will cover books and other odds and ends, said Getzmeyer, a pre-pharmacy student.
"You learn in your first year how quickly those things add up," she said.
Other schools assumed those funds would evaporate and built financial-aid packages for students without those components. Among them was Oakland Community College, said Patrick Buck, a financial aid officer.
"It has been a headache for everyone -- for the schools, for students," he said. "At the same time unemployment goes up and more people can't pay for college, they've cut those funds."
Other funding ideas
Granholm and House Democrats have also proposed what she called painless tax changes to increase money for schools, including changes in personal income and business tax exemptions, and higher taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products.
Granholm's tour is expected to wind through five other universities and OCC in the next week to make the same pitch.
Contact ROBIN ERB: 313-222-2708