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Bill would give scholarships to top three grads at every high school

Inspired by his own experience, a veteran Democratic senator has introduced a bill that would provide four-year, full-tuition scholarships at state colleges and universities for the top three graduates of every Colorado high school every year.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, on Thursday introduced Senate Bill 15-050, which would create what he calls the ACES program. The acronym stands for Awarding Colorado’s Excellent Scholars. Heath recalled recently that a similar scholarship made it possible for him to attend the University of Wisconsin after he graduated from high school.

Students eligible for the program would the graduates with the three highest grade-point averages, with a 3.0 minimum. (In the case of GPA ties, a district superintendent or charter principal would determine the winners.)

Scholarship winners would have to enroll in a state college immediately after graduation, take full course loads of 15 credit hours, maintain a 3.0 average and (in most cases) finish college in four years.

Heath’s bill is the first of what are expected to be several bills on college affordability, including financial incentives for students who stay in college, student loan forgiveness, caps on some student loan interest rates and better consumer disclosure on loans.

There’s also expected to be debate about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request to funnel $30 million into a pet project, the new Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, and to not make the usual increase in funding the state’s existing financial aid fund. That fund primarily serves lower-income students. Some Joint Budget Committee members are skeptical of the governor’s idea.

Health’s bill doesn’t yet have a price tag (that’s usually the case when a bill is introduced), and so far he’s the only sponsor, not necessarily a good sign for a bill’s future.

Only two other education or youth-related bills were introduced Thursday. They are:

Senate Bill 15-048 – Requires youth sports organizations to get criminal history background checks on all employees and volunteers who work directly with youth five or more days a month and also for any employees and volunteers who accompany youth on trips with overnight stays. Prime sponsors: Heath; Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont

Senate Bill 15-051 – Changes the appeal process for student athletes who are sanctioned or found ineligible to play. Prime sponsors: Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora; Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.