Riley fishes for votes with college lure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2003

A college education is priceless. So why is Gov. Bob Riley trying to give it away?

The state's education system is facing a budget crisis and part of Riley's plan to correct the problem is to give away an estimated $75 million a year in scholarships to students who maintain a "B" average in high school and score a 20 or better on the ACT.

It seems like that $75 million could be used to save our education system and allow superintendents to rehire educators who have been let go due to budget constraints.

A college education is something every student in the state should strive to achieve, but not something every student should have handed to them just so Riley has a chance of getting voters to pass his tax-package.

A college education, however, is not for everyone. Plus, it means a lot more when somebody has to really work for something. Maintaining a "B" average in high school is not that much work. What's next, a bill to give every college graduate who maintains a "B" average a job with the government making a minimum of $30,000 a year plus benefits?

Scholarships already reward students deserving of a so-called "free education." It's not free when one considers all the hard work that goes into becoming a valedictorian, scoring a 30 on the ACT, writing essays and filling out applications for scholarships.

It means more when you have to work for something, not to mention it builds character. Why start giving out scholarships as often as WKMX plays a Sheryl Crow song?

Aren't scholarships for students who deserve a free education based on a superior academic performance or for those who require financial assistance? Shouldn't a valedictorian get a scholarship because he earns it and not because Riley wants to get a tax package passed by the voters via a statewide referendum in September?

This plan of Riley's is loaded with taxes to fund education. Why spend all of that money funding something if he is just going to give it away?

Scholarships are great, but nobody is entitled to a free education. A scholarship is not a ticket redeemable for a free education, it is a reward for hard work throughout one's secondary education.

If the tax plan is passed by the legislature, it should not include Riley's "free education" for "B" students. If someone wants to go to college without coughing up the cash let them work hard to earn a scholarship or join the United States Armed Forces.

In fact, couldn't Riley's plan hurt the military's ability to recruit bright, young minds eager to get a college degree while also serving their country.

I am all for students receiving scholarships when they deserve them, but let's not start handing them out like party hats on New Year's Eve.

If Riley wants to give something away, he can start by giving jobs back to the educators who did have not their contracts renewed. If there is funding left over, put it in a savings account to prevent another lack of funding in a few years.

Riley, however, would rather tease voters with a scholarship program, that may or may not work, just to get his tax package passed. In fact, the two lawmakers sponsoring the identical bills that would implement Riley's scholarship plan said as much in recent interviews.

"I can't imagine that the package would pass without it," Sen. Steve French (R-Mountain Brook), who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, told The Birmingham News.

State Representative Mark Gaines (R-Homewood) is sponsoring an identical bill in the House of Representatives and agrees with French.

"I don't think the package would have a prayer without it, to be honest," French told The Birmingham News.

I would much rather see Riley set up some sort of savings account for that $75 million and have it available for a rainy day.

If Riley can't see the logic in planning for the future, then maybe he should go back to Ashland - the Watermelon Capital of the World - and spit watermelon seeds instead of slinging fertilizer in the Capital City.