PIERRE | Fewer students from low-income households will receive college scholarships this year after the Department of Education declared South Dakota ineligible to receive a $1.5 million grant for a program called College Access.
The annual grant was halted effective Oct. 1 as a consequence of Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Legislature cutting state funding for public universities in 2011.
State officials said they intend to operate College Access this school year with $680,742 of federal aid from a previous award. That money is available through Aug. 14, 2014.
There will be consequences, however, including a big reduction in the number of scholarships available to first-year college students. Aid also will be substantially reduced to the 44 high schools, six state universities, four public technical institutes and four tribal colleges and universities that participate in College Access.
The six state universities last year received $35,000 each for outreach work. This year the amounts are $20,000. Tribal institutions and tech schools received $15,000 each last year and will get $7,500 each this year. Funding to the high schools is being reduced to $140,000, from $250,000 last year.
State Education Secretary Melody Schopp said she doesn’t plan to ask the Legislature for funds to offset the loss of federal funding.
Schools with high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch programs are the specific targets of College Access. In turn, many of the students who qualify for College Access scholarships in South Dakota are Native Americans.
The numbers of students reached in some way through any College Access activities has grown from 7,227 three years ago to 45,876 last year.
There were 113 students who received $1,000 scholarships for the first semester and 110 who continued to second semester and received their second $1,000 scholarships.
In all, $223,000 was spent on scholarships last year. For the current school year, there is $89,000 set aside for scholarships.
Starting in May, state and federal officials talked or corresponded at least five times about whether South Dakota had met the required maintenance of effort, and whether South Dakota could receive a federal waiver from the requirement.
Ultimately the federal officials ruled on Aug. 28 that South Dakota hadn’t met the requirement and didn’t qualify for a waiver.
“I went back and forth for two months trying to work it every way we could,” said Tamara Darnall, the budget officer for the state department.