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Liberty-Scholarship Measure Reaches Cuomo's Desk

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After months of deliberation, the New York State legislature has finally approved a version of Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's proposed Liberty Scholarship program, which would help low- and middle-income students pay for college.

The aid offer will apply to some 94,000 students in New York's population, state officials estimate.

Although the new version of the bill differs somewhat from the plan that the Governor outlined in January, state officials are calling it landmark legislation. Mr. Cuomo is scheduled to sign the bill Aug. 4.

"We feel that this demonstrates New York State's leadership position on state tuition assistance,'' said Cornelius J. Foley, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo.

"The spirit of the proposal that the Governor intended is still there,'' he added. "We are targeting low-income students and making college available to them.''

The Governor originally suggested that the state guarantee a free public-college education to 7th graders from families whose income was below 130 percent of the poverty level.

The new bill calls for $90 million in grants when fully funded in 1991 to help students pay for costs other than tuition, such as room and board, transportation, and books.

In addition, the measure would apply to students entering the 11th grade this coming school year, rather than to 7th graders as the Governor had proposed, Mr. Foley said.

The compromise bill also calls for $40 million in grants to encourage state colleges to form partnerships with high schools that have a high number of disadvantaged students, and to provide counseling, mentors, and other support services to such students in an effort to reduce the state's dropout rate.

In order to placate Republican lawmakers who had threatened to kill the program if its financial-aid base was not broadened, the new scholarships will be made available to students with somewhat higher family incomes as well, Mr. Foley said.

Under the measure, all students from families whose income is below 130 percent of the poverty level or whose parents' adjusted gross income is less than $18,000 will be eligible, he added.

The scholarships are intended to supplement federal Pell Grants, which provide up to $2,200 a year to low- and middle-income college students, and the state's Tuition Assistance Program, which provides grants to students from families with a net taxable income below $32,000. Between the three programs, Mr. Foley said, all costs in state public institutions would be covered.

The legislature has yet to act on several other education-related measures in what has become its longest session in over a decade. They include proposals to create an independent office to coordinate school construction and rehabilitation in New York City, and to abolish the controversial state board of examiners, which is responsible for teacher certification.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Albany this week after a two-week break. --LJ

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