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Published in Print: April 25, 2001, as Arizona Kills Scholarship Program For Lack of Donations

Arizona Kills Scholarship Program For Lack of Donations

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An Arizona scholarship program that was started seven years ago to provide an eventual free college education to poor 3rd graders who did well in school is now dead. The state legislature and private sources failed to come up with the money to pay for the program.

The Arizona Student Program Investing Resources for Education, or ASPIRE, was launched with high expectations 1994 and was modeled after the celebrated commitment by businessman Eugene M. Lang, who in 1981 returned to the New York City school he had attended and promised its 6th graders partial scholarships. Today, the I Have a Dream Foundation begun by Mr. Lang helps 168 projects in 63 cities that serve 13,000 students.

The Arizona program offered $1 in state aid for every $2 raised from federal and private sources. The hope was to start a pilot program that would include a limited number of 3rd graders in several schools—depending on the amount of money raised—then later expand that as the program grew.

But only four donors materialized, contributing a little more than $14,300. And state lawmakers defeated legislation in 1999, 2000, and again this year to provide state funding for the program.

Economic Realities

Bowing to economic reality, the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, which administered the program, voted two weeks ago to let the program expire.

"For whatever reason, we weren't able to generate interest in this program," said Wade Murphree, the commission's chairman.

The attempt to raise the scholarship money became a "chicken and an egg" situation, Mr. Murphree said, as legislators pledged to ante up the money once private groups came forward with donations, while at the same time, private sources were waiting for lawmakers to take the lead.

Verna L. Allen, the commission's executive director, said she hoped the program would be revived, but she acknowledged that she wasn't sure how or when a new effort would occur. "We all think this is a good program," she said. "You just have to keep trying and do things a different way."

US West, a digital telecommunications company, was the only corporate sponsor to contribute money to the fund. The higher education commission has returned the company's $10,000 donation.

Arizona provided $2.7 million in state grants to college-bound students in the 1998-99 academic year, all of it need-based, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs.

Vol. 20, Issue 32, Page 23

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