A measure that seeks to expand a state scholarship program would help Oklahoma keep pace with demand for qualified workers, state officials said.
Senate Bill 432 would expand Oklahoma's Promise to cover students pursuing certain industry certificates through CareerTech centers or state colleges or universities.
In its current form, the program provides free tuition to students who meet certain academic, financial and disciplinary requirements. It doesn't cover other costs, such as mandatory fees, books and housing, and it applies only to students who are seeking a college degree.
Under the current rules, eighth through 10th-graders who apply for the scholarship must show their families don't earn more than $50,000 a year. Then, before the students enter college they must fall below another family income cap. Under the current rules, the student's family must earn less than $100,000 a year.
The bill would expand the program to offer scholarships to students pursuing industry certifications in areas the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has identified as critical.
The bill includes a request for up to $10 million in funding for the first year. It passed the Senate by a 42-1 vote on March 6, and is now in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Commerce department spokesman Don Hackler said the measure would help the state train workers in areas where the department projects growing demand, particularly in engineering-related fields. For Oklahoma's economy to continue to grow, it will be more important for the state to keep up with industry demand for trained workers, he said.
Oklahoma education officials have made a concerted effort recently to improve the state's college and vocational education completion numbers. Gov. Mary Fallin has called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma over the next 12 years. That goal is part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative designed to boost college completion.
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