Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin has issued an executive order creating the Work Ready Scholarship Program, which will provide free tuition to eligible Kentucky students getting a two-year degree that could be used in “high-demand” industries like healthcare and manufacturing.

“[T]he Commonwealth of Kentucky is committed to increasing the currently low workforce participation rate by expanding the skilled, competitive workforce necessary to attract new businesses to the state,” Bevin wrote in the executive order.

A similar version of the program was approved by the state legislature in the spring, but Bevin vetoed the enabling legislation, saying it was “hastily written.” He also vetoed the first year of the program’s funding, delaying its implementation until the 2017-2018 school year.

Unlike the version of the scholarship vetoed by Bevin, the new initiative requires students to seek a degree or certificate that can be used in one of the state’s “top 5 high-demand industries,” as determined by the state.

Currently, those industries include healthcare, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction, according to the executive order.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo pushed for the Work Ready scholarship during this year’s legislative session. He said the new program shouldn’t limit which subjects students can major in.

“This executive order undermines the very goal of the scholarship as it passed the General Assembly,” Stumbo said in an emailed statement.

“We showed it was possible, and very affordable, to help every graduating high school student pursuing a two-year college degree. We didn’t want to micromanage students, or pick winners and losers, as this order does, and we would already be helping them if not for the governor’s veto. His own college background, in which he earned his degree in Japanese and East Asian Studies, is a perfect case study. Let’s let the students decide what they think is best for their careers while we try to help them meet their goals. It’s really that simple.”

The Work Ready scholarship proposal was a major ambition of Democrats, who fought to include it in the final compromise budget during this year’s legislative session.

Bevin vetoed the program but preserved funding for the second year of the scholarship, saying more work needed to be done to craft the initiative.

“Developing and implementing a properly functioning Work Ready Scholarship program will take a great deal of time and effort,” Bevin said in his veto message at the time.

Under the new program, students will be able to use the scholarship to attend a school in the Kentucky Community and Technical College system, one of Kentucky’s 4-year public universities or any other accredited school in the state.

However, the scholarship award would max out at the cost of in-state tuition and fees to attend a KCTCS institution full-time.

In order to be eligible, a student must be a Kentucky resident, hold a high school diploma or a GED, and maintain a 2.0 grade-point average while enrolled in the program.

Students are also required to apply for federal tuition assistance — the Work Ready scholarship would pay for the tuition cost not covered by the federal government.

Students would only be able to get the scholarship for four semesters, 32 credit hours, or until they get their first associate degree (whichever comes earliest).

The executive order also creates a trust fund in the State Treasury for the scholarship, which will be funded by the state, gifts, grants and federal funds.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.