(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 18, 2013 – Legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) giving students with developmental disabilities the opportunity to receive a Tennessee Lottery Scholarship is moving through the State Senate after receiving approval in the Education Committee last week. Senate Bill 36 would create the Tennessee STEP UP Scholarship to provide accessible funding for high school students with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have college aspirations.
“Tennessee’s lottery scholarships were created to help Tennessee’s high school graduates reach their dreams through education,” Senator Overbey said. “Scholarship opportunities should be open to everyone who shows a desire through their coursework to obtain a college degree, regardless of disability, and I believe this bill does just that.”
Like the larger HOPE Scholarship program, the bill allocates $4,000 per year for a maximum of two years to each student who qualifies, starting for the 2013-2014 academic year. To be eligible, a student must display Tennessee residency, graduate high school in his or her own Individual Education Program, and be admitted to and enroll in an eligible postsecondary institution no later than 16 months after graduation. With a total of 48 students currently in rolled in eligible special needs programs, the only universities that offer such programs are the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Vanderbilt University and the University of Memphis.
Among the witnesses asked to testify before the Education Committee were Meredith Schlandt of Clinton, Edward Nezbit of Nashville and Sam Bryant of Germantown. Enrolled at Tennessee and Vanderbilt respectively, both Schlandt and Nezbit participate in a program specially designed for their special needs to provide skills necessary to secure employment and live independently.
Schlandt, who has hopes of working in healthcare, stated about her experience, “I have had the opportunity to take coursework that was specific to the field of study I am interested in so that I might gain life lessons.”
In addition, Overbey is pushing for passage of legislation that allows students to receive a Hope Scholarship for eight semesters regardless of the number of credit hours attempted or completed. Currently, aid under the state’s Lottery Scholarship program is capped at 120 hours. Senate Bill 710 allows students to maximize their college educational experience and take and complete as many course hours as they chose during eight semesters of study. Testifying in support of Sen. Overbey’s legislation was Dr. Katie High, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Success for the University of Tennessee.
“Our goal with the Complete College Tennessee Act is to graduate more students with post-secondary degrees,” added Overbey. “Current law runs counter to that goal. More importantly, our scholarship policy denies our brightest and best students who have chosen rigorous degree programs and to maximize their college educational experience the funds needed to complete their programs and graduate in four years. I am very pleased both of these bills are moving through the State Senate.”
The bills must now pass the Finance, Ways and Means Committee before moving on to the Senate floor for a final vote.