Valedictorians and salutatorians from V.I. Adult Education Centers will be eligible for the small scholarships the V.I. government gives to regular public school vals and sals, if the bill approved in committee Tuesday becomes law.
But the Board of Education already gives those graduates the same scholarships, raising questions about whether the change means much.
Initially, Office of Management and Budget Director Jenifer O’Neal told the Education and Workforce Development Committee that the Office of Management and Budget could not support the bill due to lack of funding.
Existing law gives very small government scholarships to the University of the Virgin Islands, which are obsolete because UVI now accepts most local students free of charge. The government also gives a $6,000 scholarship to each of the four public school valedictorians and a $4,000 scholarship to each of the four salutatorians if they go to college outside the territory.
Valedictorians are the top graduating students at a school. Salutatorians are the students with the second highest grades and test scores.
O’Neal said in the current year’s budget, valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships are funded at $25,000 and $17,000, respectively. Adding four more recipients cannot be absorbed by the existing appropriation, she said.
In response, Sen. Kurt Vialet said the award amount, which currently sits at $6,000 for valedictorians and $4,000 for the salutatorians, would be halved to $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.
Vialet said funding is also available from the former scholarships to UVI.
“Since the students who are going to the University of the Virgin Islands are provided a scholarship in the next section with room, board, etc. there is no longer a need to fund those students in this particular section. So, this section has been revised where all the monies, all $42,000, would go to those students who are not going to the University of the Virgin Islands because their major is not located at the university,” he said.
When UVI President David Hall endorsed legislation to make UVI tuition free for most local students, he included existing scholarships such as the existing V.I. government scholarship funding to determine whether the school could afford the change. So, removing that funding would, in effect, cut funding to UVI.
It is unclear if the bill actually has any impact or changes the current system.
Board of Education Executive Director Milton Potter said the Board of Education already recognizes valedictorians and salutatorians from the adult education programs. “Therefore, all scholarship awards administered by the Board of Education … are automatically extended to graduates from our adult education centers,” Potter said.
From 2016 to 2019, 10 Adult Education valedictorians and salutatorians reportedly got the scholarships. According to the Board of Education, those students are Catherine Jules, Shay-Lin Smith, Jenny Lewis, Mahalia Joseph, Delroy Tatem, Julia Lapomarede, Jean Liberny, Bianca Santiago, Shauna Henry and Kanisha Henderson.
Although Adult Education students have been receiving the scholarships, Potter said the Board of Education sees merit in formally writing the students into the Virgin Islands Code “to ensure that they remain on equal footing with their counterparts in the traditional education programs.”
After the discussion O’Neal said she had “no opposition to the bill, but my concern is and always will be funding. With the identified funding I would whole-heartedly support this bill. Recognition to all graduates is essential.”
Voting to move the bill to the Rules and Judiciary Committee were Sens. Vialet, Donna Frett- Gregory, Allison DeGazon, Steven Payne Sr. and Janelle Sarauw. Sens. Kenneth Gittens and Stedmann Hodge Jr. were absent from the vote.