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Noem’s push for scholarship endowment gets early support

February 8, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposal to put $50 million toward a need-based scholarship endowment cleared its first test in the Legislature on Monday.

South Dakota is the only state without a significant scholarship endowment for low-income students. Noem wants to create a $200 million fund by combining the state money with $150 million from private donors. Lawmakers have an extraordinary amount of one-time funds after the state used federal coronavirus relief funding to cover the state’s pandemic-related expenses.

The governor’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, described the scholarship allotment as an “investment” that would benefit the state’s students long into the future.

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Barry Dunn, the president of South Dakota State University, said the school has seen declines in students who rely on need-based federal grants as such grants have failed to keep up with tuition increases. He connected the drop-off to the declining rates of enrolment at state universities over the past decade.

The fund would generate about $8 million every year to be distributed to public universities, private colleges and tribal colleges.

A committee of senators unanimously recommended the bill’s passage after it was proposed by Republican legislative leaders.

Republican Sen. Casey Crabtree called the vote “the easiest decision we’ll make all year.”

Noem has said the scholarships would require recipients to work in the state for three years after graduation or be required to repay the money.

She has secured a $50 million donation from First Premier Bank and T. Denny Sanford, a South Dakota philanthropist. Sanford has committed to giving the state another $50 million, and her office is trying to the rest of the money.

House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said the endowment would be called the “Freedom Scholarship.”

“This scholarship will give some of the kids the freedom they would not have gotten if it weren’t for this,” he said.