A Senate committee has passed legislation designed to increase scholarship opportunities for high school students in East St. Louis.
The legislation permits the East St. Louis City Council to create a "Promise Zone." Promise zones raise funds allowing low-income public school students to be awarded full-tuition scholarships for an associate degree at Southwestern Illinois College's East St. Louis Community College Center.
Funds for the promise zone are gathered from private donors by a board made up of local educators, business leaders and appointed officials.
House Bill 194, known as the Lincoln Promise Zone Act, passed a Senate committee on Tuesday following testimony by Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, and East St. Louis School District 189 Superintendent Art Culver. The measure already has been approved by the House, and now goes to the full Senate.
"Promise zones give those students with no other options a way of affording quality education," Clayborne said. "If we have the opportunity to give these students one more chance for a better future, we are obligated to do so."
Students are eligible for the scholarships if they meet specific residency requirements, attended East St. Louis public schools, have exhausted all other governmental funding opportunities and maintain performance standards while enrolled in college courses. These criteria are set by the local board of appointees.
Culver said: "It will give our kids a motivation to stay in school and gives our parents motivation to stay in the community. This would be a huge benefit to our school districts and kids in our community."
House Bill 194 also allows promise zones to be created in Rockford and Aurora. These three communities will serve as a pilot program for possible future expansion to other areas.
The House passed the proposal in February.