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Wyoming Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, speaks during the Joint Education Interim Committee meeting Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, at the Wyoming Liquor Division building in Cheyenne. The committee turned down a bill that would have allowed college students to receive more Hathaway Scholarship money if they maintain a 3.75 GPA for two consecutive semesters. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – State legislators on the Joint Education Interim Committee turned down a bill Thursday that would have let college students receive more Hathaway Scholarship money if they reached certain GPA benchmarks.

The bill, which failed by a 8-5 vote during the committee’s meeting in Cheyenne, would have given students the ability to boost their scholarship funding if the student maintains a 3.75 GPA for two consecutive semesters. The Hathaway Scholarship program can be used at the University of Wyoming or any community college in the state.

Though some thought the bill was well-intentioned, legislators worried GPA-based incentives would be unfair to students earning certain degrees. Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said he had a bit of heartburn over the proposed legislation.

“Everything that will dictate a student’s ability to do this is almost predicated on what she majors in or what instructor she ends up with,” Landen said. “It’s just really not an equal playing surface out there, and that kind of bothers me.”

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, who teaches in the College of Engineering and the Honors College at the University of Wyoming, shared Landen’s concern.

“I fundamentally grade differently in those two places,” Rothfuss said. “The philosophy is different, the expectations are different and the grades that I’m going to put down end up being different.”

The bill would have increased the amount given out through the scholarships by about $3.6 million annually, according to Legislative Service Office estimates. Rothfuss said the scholarship account had the money for the increase, though he added it could be used more effectively.

“That’s about a 20% bump, and if we want to spend 20% more on Hathaway, I would up the Hathaway awards by 20%,” Rothfuss said. “I think that policy narrows the gap of what we’ve been trying to accomplish, which is to have the Hathaway more closely approximate the cost of tuition and fees at the university.”

Rep. John Freeman, D-Green River, said he drafted the bill following his son’s struggles to gain necessary test scores, adding there are many Wyoming students in similar situations.

“We reward that merit in high school, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with rewarding that merit when they get to college,” Freeman said.

But others thought the bill could create the wrong kind of incentive. Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, said students might drop harder courses to meet the GPA threshold for the scholarship program.

“I don’t know that we’re encouraging students to tackle and be engaged in these scary-sounding (majors),” Ellis said. “I don’t know that this helps that, and those are careers that we need to really be focusing on.”

A similar version of the bill failed in the House last session. Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said rather than working on piecemeal legislation, she would prefer taking a step back to look at the entire scholarship program.

“What we’ve been doing for the past couple of years is tweaking (the program) a bit,” said Connolly. “I see this (bill) as an extension of it.”

During the meeting, legislators discussed another bill that would limit the amount of Hathaway funds available for graduate students at the University of Wyoming. Ultimately, concerns over the bill’s language forced the committee to postpone a vote on it until today’s second day of the meeting.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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