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Senator Joe Thomas Appointed to Alaska Scholarship Task Force

Committee will review affordability at Alaska schools, craft program to reward high school achievers

(FAIRBANKS) – Senator Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, has been appointed to the newly-created Joint Legislative Higher Education Scholarship Funding Task Force by Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. The task force was created to review and finalize a new financial aid program for Alaska students who want to attend college or career schools in the state. Alaska is one of few states without a comprehensive higher education grant program, and graduates of Alaska high schools have some of the lowest rates of college attendance and completion in the nation. Additionally, Alaska ranks dead last nationwide in the number of high school graduates from low-income families who go on to attend college or vocational training.

“Alaska’s schools and universities are producing some incredible graduates for Alaska’s workforce, but we must do better,” stated Senator Joe Thomas. “If we can incentivize our students to take a more rigorous curriculum in high school, I’m convinced that we’ll see an increase in the quality of an Alaska education and an increase in the number of our graduates seeking college degrees and pursuing career and vocational education after high school.”

The Senate Education Committee, co-chaired by Senator Thomas and Senator Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, received a scholarship bill from Governor Parnell early in the year, and worked on it throughout the 2010 legislative session. The Governor’s bill established a merit scholarship based on models taken from Wyoming and Louisiana. In Louisiana, the program improved college accessibility and graduation rates: scholarship recipients were nearly three times as likely to graduate college as non-recipients.

The Alaska plan would award scholarships to students who take a more demanding set of courses in high school. Students are required to take four years of science, four years of math, four years of language arts and three years of social studies.

“Like most Alaskans, I’m tired of seeing our state rank towards the bottom when it comes to educational proficiency, graduation rates and college attendance,” stated Senator Thomas. “This taskforce will explore ways to boost our educational performance by expecting more from our students and teachers.”

“This was a complex and challenging piece of legislation to pass in one session,” said Senate President Stevens who also serves on the Education Committee. “I am pleased to appoint Senator Thomas to the task force. His hard work as co-chair of the Education Committee was vital this session, and I look forward to working with him again.”

The task force is composed of fifteen members. Five are appointed by the Senate President, five by the Speaker of the House, and five by the governor. Other senate appointees include Senate Education Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis (Anchorage), Senate Finance Co-Chairman Lyman Hoffman (Bethel), and Senate President Gary Stevens.

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