The state Senate last week passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Boyd restoring college scholarships for those students. But it's going to take Calhoun County voters to send the Anniston High seniors off to college.
In November 2010, residents from Piedmont to Oxford will decide the future of the Next Start scholarship program. The program was halted by a 2007 attorney general's opinion.
In the past, the money for the scholarships came out of Anniston's general fund. The City Council had given $500,000 since 1998, helping send 480 Anniston High graduates to college.
But the attorney general's opinion said the city could not use public money to fund scholarships for private individuals.
Boyd, a Democrat who represents Anniston, hopes residents support reinstating the scholarships.
"We're just on first base," said Boyd, who authored similar bills that failed in the Senate in both 2007 and 2008.
Boyd said without the scholarship, many of the students won't be able to afford a secondary education. The Next Start scholarship, she said, would "give them an opportunity and hope that, in the future, they would remain in the area to increase economic development and educational opportunities for other students who will come behind them."
Boyd's first draft of the bill drew the ire of school leaders, who argued that it gave too much power to the City Council with no accountability, and that it took money out of an existing special school tax and property tax. That money is the school's money, school officials said.
She worked with the Anniston Board of Education and made changes to the text of the bill, notably changing the word "shall" to "may" throughout the body of the bill. School officials said the word "shall" implied certainty.
The new bill says the city may appropriate funds for the scholarship from any source other than the special school taxes and special property taxes.
Thursday after the school board's regular meeting, board member Jim Klinefelter thanked Boyd for taking the board's concerns to heart and said he was glad to be one step closer to restoring the scholarship program.
"We hope to see that scholarships continue and that they are properly funded," he said.
Councilman Herbert Palmore said he wasn't happy with the changes, but he is happy the students are one step closer to scholarships.
"It's going to take the people to pass it, and hopefully we'll have the funds to appropriate to the scholarship," he said. "I'm hopeful that we'll be able to fund it … and as of the present moment, we're looking very favorable."
Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson echoed Palmore.
"If it passes on the referendum by the people and it's their will, then it'll be very important. I'm sure most of these people will need a helping hand going to college," he said.