May 15, 2016

A Win for Students This Legislative Session

By Amanda Wahlstedt

Jay Shrader, a senior at Shelby County High School, worries about how he will pay for college, calling his acceptance to Eastern Kentucky University “bittersweet.” He knows, “the first semester at EKU is about $3500... and the last time I was ever around a thousand dollars was never.”

Kevin Swiney, a senior at Betsy Layne High School, has similar concerns. “College is important to me because I really want to make a difference in Eastern Kentucky,” he said. “College means developing not only yourself but other people around you.” But for him, paying for college will be a “nightmare.”

This legislative session was a victory for students like Kevin and Jay. After 28 years of diverting lottery money from need-based scholarships, the General Assembly moved to restore nearly $55 million biennially to the College Access Program (CAP) and the Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG). Though the Governor later used a line-item veto to reduce this amount to $14 million, it is still an important win. 

Eight thousand additional Kentucky students will receive financial assistance in furthering their education. Furthermore, this year’s budget represents a renewed commitment to ensuring lottery funds support need-based scholarships. 

The story behind the story offers Kentucky’s young people further hope. That’s because the “Powerball Promise” campaign for statutory funding of these scholarships was conceived, designed, and implemented largely by Kentucky students themselves.

Kentucky newspapers like this one and organizations like the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the Council for Postsecondary Education, and the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities had been pushing this issue for years with little traction. The voices of students, we soon discovered, were the missing piece.

This legislative session, scores of Kentucky middle school, high school, and college students put their civic skills to work. Between classes and homework, we researched the issue; met with policymakers and advocates; interviewed students, academics and educators; wrote opinion pieces, press advisories and press releases; testified before a legislative subcommittee; and crafted and implemented a social media messaging strategy.

The work included an event that drew hundreds of students and other allies to the Capitol Rotunda. Our “Ready for College but No Way to Go” event amplified and elevated stories from low income students struggling to afford college. It was our attempt to pair faces of Kentucky students with facts so often referenced in articles and reports. The voices of students in low-income families, which often go unheard in Frankfort, rang loud from the heart of the capitol.

The fact that the General Assembly heeded Kentucky students’ call for increased funding of CAP and KTG suggests that Kentucky policymakers may be ready to listen to students’ educational policy suggestions. And if making headway in honoring the Powerball Promise proves to be just the beginning, then Kentucky students—and the Commonwealth as a whole—will have hit the jackpot.

This op-ed ran as part of a package with several other Student Voice Team op-eds in the Courier Journal.

Amanda Whalstedt

Amanda Whalstedt

Amanda is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. She graduated from Knox Central High School in 2016 and Wellesley College in 2020.