A bill proposed by DC Council Member David Catania (I) would provide $100,000 scholarships for low-income students to go to college. Although the bill is gaining wide support, it has many serious problems including scholarships for the wealthy and an unjustified focus on four-year degrees. Here is a list of what must be done before the bill has any chance of success.
1. Remove scholarships for the rich
It makes sense that the grants would be awarded on a sliding scale: the lower the family's income, the higher the potential grant for the child to go to college. However, the high end of the household income scale is far too high: $250,000 annually. Although the cost of living in DC is relatively high, it is impossible to justify spending taxpayer dollars on need-based college scholarships for students whose parents make $250,000 per year.
2. Include alternatives to four-year colleges
The bill does not yet clarify what types of post-secondary education the grant may be used for, the current assumption is that only four-year colleges will qualify.
If taxpayers are going to back a $100,000 scholarship, their money would be better served if the student received a two-year technical degree in web design (annual salary $47,000) instead of a four-year anthropology degree (which not only costs more but pays a median annual salary of $28,000 if you are not one of 10.5% unemployed).
3. Outline a funding plan
The reality is that paying students to stay in bad schools is an unsustainable solution in the long-term. The Washington Post reports:
Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said the measure not only would give a leg up to poor students, but also could be a “powerful antidote” to keep more affluent families – who often move to the suburbs or opt for private schools by the time their kids reach junior high – to stay in the city’s public schools.But there is clearly a problem with that logic. Parents who have the ability of school choice enroll their kids in better schools. The DC government's solution must ultimately be to improve their schools and make them competitive. All Catania's bill does is throw money at parents to try and entice them to stay - thereby treating a symptom rather than the cause. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is right to question how the scholarships, which may cost $50 million per year according to Catania himself, can possibly be funded without taking away from efforts to make lasting improvements.
Until these issues are resolved, it is unlikely that the bill will succeed. Despite highlighting a meaningful problem, DC has a long and difficult road ahead to solving it.