Arizona legislature proposes new bill to fund national service scholarships

New bill would provide one-for-one matching on scholarships for students who participate in national service programs like AmeriCorps

The Arizona Legislature recently introduced a bill that would establish the John McCain Public Service Scholarship Fund in honor of the late senator, aiming to create a scholarship program that will match what students earn from participating in national service programs like AmeriCorps.

The bill, HB 2321, was proposed by Democratic Rep. Aaron Lieberman (LD-28), the first bill that he has proposed as a freshman legislator. With the bill, he said he aims to promote national service among college students.

“I’ve seen in my own life just the incredible impact service has in opening up whole new worlds to people,” Lieberman said. “Both the impact you have in terms of the service you do and also the impact that it has on the person doing the service in terms of just expanding their horizons.”

The programs for which the bill is designed are housed under the federal agency, Corporation for National and Community Service, which include AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps and the Social Innovation Fund.

AmeriCorps, an organization that coordinates various service-related programs for people of all ages with multiple areas of interest like K-12 education and combating poverty, is the program that is most common for college-age adults to participate in.

Students who participate in the program receive different stipends depending on which program they complete. Many of the stipends given to Arizona participants fall between $5,000 and $6,000, and some programs in different locations include additional funds for living expenses. 

The proposed scholarship fund in Lieberman's bill would award recipients the same amount of the stipend they earn through any national service program.

Deborah Ruiz, the director of community engagement programs for the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said she believes the bill will help increase participation in the University's AmeriCorps programs because students can earn money while completing the programs.

For the programs in the Teachers College, students have the opportunity to participate in a national service program while also gaining career experience in teaching.

"Our program encourages our Teachers College students to complete student teaching with high-needs kids at Title I Schools and in special education placement," Ruiz said.

While all three Arizona universities have AmeriCorps programs, Lieberman said ASU has some of the largest.

“Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has one of the biggest AmeriCorps programs in the state,” Lieberman said. “Last year, that program received over $360,000 in educational scholarship federal money so that'll be matched up to $360,000 this year.”

Lieberman said that money for the fund will come from the state fund, not the universities' budgets. 

“The appropriation will come from the general fund and it’ll be $1 million for the first year, and if all of that gets used, it’ll go up to $2 million the second year, and if all of that gets used it’ll go up to $3 million the third year,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said he was thrilled at the amount of support he had from both parties in the chamber, saying that “additional co-sponsors were evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.”

Lieberman not only has the support of his fellow legislators, but the support of the Arizona Board of Regents as well.

On Jan. 24, ABOR publicly stated that as a board, it has voted to support the bill and two other bills that affect Arizona universities. The two other bills include HB 2061, which would lower the age requirement for the Foster Waiver Tuition Scholarship from 16 to 14 years old, and HB 2423, which helps support the universities’ space exploration activities.

Brittney Kaufmann, associate vice president of government affairs and community relations at ABOR, said the board has always been involved with the legislative process.

Often when the state legislature considers a bill regarding universities, the board will come out with a public statement on it.

“It is amazing the number of things that touch our university enterprise system,” Kaufmann said. “We’ll look at things that we want to run proactively.”

Kaufmann said they always pay specific attention to bills proposed by the legislature that have to do with money.

“The biggest on our legislative agenda is always the budget,” Kaufmann said. “We’ve been using for the last three years, maybe four years, a 50/50 model. We’re asking the state to fund half of the cost of Arizona students.”

Kaufmann said the bills that ABOR mostly supports are related to tuition or scholarship funding.

“Some are pretty straight forward,” Kaufmann said. “I want to give you an example — the foster care tuition waiver scholarship and the other on the public service scholarship fund. The board has a long standing position on certain areas and tuition waivers is one of them.”

"The board has been very supportive of those with the appropriate appropriation from the legislature," Kaufmann said.


Reach the reporter at mzhao49@asu.edu and follow @michelle_zhao23 on Twitter. 

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