Senate approves East St. Louis 'promise zone' for college scholarships

News-DemocratMay 15, 2013 

Illinois Legislature

The floor of the Illinois Senate.

SETH PERLMAN — AP

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The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved legislation creating a "promise zone" in East St. Louis, designed to increase scholarship opportunities for high school students in the community.

House Bill 194, sponsored by Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, permits the East St. Louis City Council to create a promise zone. The promise zone would raise funds allowing low-income public school students to be awarded full-tuition scholarships for an associate's degree at Southwestern Illinois College's East St. Louis Community College Center.

Funds for promise zones are gathered from private donors by a board made up of local educators, business leaders and appointed officials.

"Promise zones provide one last line of defense for students who want to attend college but have absolutely no other options," said Clayborne, who is the Senate majority leader. "I am glad that my fellow lawmakers recognize our obligation to provide students from disadvantaged communities additional opportunities to continue their education."

He added, "This program motivates students to stay in school and motivates parents -- and businesses -- to stay in the community."

The Senate passed the bill 51-4. Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, who was the only metro-east senator to vote in opposition, said such scholarship opportunities are already available through the private sector, and there are bigger priorities at the moment for state legislators.

Students are eligible for these 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. Specific criteria are set by the local board of appointees.

The bill allows additional promise zones to be created in Rockford and Aurora. These three communities will serve as a pilot program for potential future expansion to other areas.

The House passed the proposal in February and it now goes to the governor's desk. A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn was not immediately available for comment.

How local senators voted:

* Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville: Yes

* Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton: Yes

* Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville: Yes

* Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: No

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