Following hours of debate and confusion Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council delayed voting on who to make eligible for the “Richmond Promise” scholarship program and how much money students would receive.
Councilmembers had approved an outline for the scholarship program on September 29, but left some key questions open for further discussion, including whether to include charter school students. The $35 million program is backed by a grant from Chevron Corp.
As with previous council meetings involving the Richmond Promise, parents, students and teachers from Richmond-area charter schools packed the room Tuesday night. They expected councilmembers to finally reach a decision about including charter school students.
Councilmembers had trouble reaching consensus on how to expand eligibility and set scholarship levels without causing the program to run out of money too quickly. Some audience members left upset after the council decided to bring up the issue again in a few weeks.
“My students are part of this community, just like everybody else,” said Brian Buttacavoli, a teacher at Making Waves Academy. “They live in our streets, they breathe in that Richmond air from the refinery.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Chamberlin Family Foundation announced that it would add $1 million to the scholarship fund if the council includes charter school students. The foundation funds many of the Richmond-area charter schools.
Several community members were also concerned that community college-bound students will not get the same amount as those going to four-year colleges. One option would award high school graduates going to community college $500 and those enrolling in four-year colleges $2,500.
“I am a community college graduate, and I ask that you follow the committee’s recommendation and not shortchange community college students,” said Mister Phillips, co-chair of an ad-hoc committee that provided policy recommendations for the program.
Supporters say more financial aid will encourage community college students to finish their degrees and transfer to four-year schools to earn their bachelor’s degree.
Many councilmembers agreed, saying that community college also offers valuable opportunities for Richmond students to pursue a college education.
However, Mayor Tom Butt argued that awarding students attending four-year and two-year colleges the same amount doesn’t make sense because the cost is so much higher at four-year schools.
“I don’t understand why its okay to give people a fraction of what just the tuition is at a state college or state university but fully fund the fees at a community college,” Butt said. “That’s more imbalance.”
Several councilmembers said they want to ensure that the scholarship can last for years to come while making sure students get enough money to make college more affordable.
Councilmember Vinay Pimplé said estimates about the program’s financial projections don’t add up.
“I’m a bit concerned about the fact that we are going to vote on something that’s completely inconsistent in terms of what we want in how its going to last,” Pimplé said.
The city estimates around 500 traditional non-charter public school students in Richmond plan on going to college next year, with about 370 at charter schools and 147 at private schools.
Estimates also show that if all three groups are included in the program, the $35 million will run out in about five years. Including just students at non-charter public schools would allow enough funding for about 10 years, according to city evaluations.
Clarification: Chamberlin Family Foundation said its grant is contingent on the City Council choosing to include all Richmond public school students in the Richmond Promise scholarship program, including charter school students who are potentially excluded. The foundation does not advocate specifically for charter students.