When I first heard about it, I was amazed that this was happening in my hometown.

It was the kind of thing you hear about happening in far-away lands like Hammond or New Buffalo, but not in Michigan City.

"It" refers to the Promise Scholarship, currently making its way through the Common Council.

The scholarship offers students up to $5,000 a year for college. As someone who might very well be paying down student loan debt until the day I depart this life, I recognize the tremendous advantage this is for our young people. To receive $20,000 toward your education is a tremendous blessing in the lives of anyone it effects.

Eventually, we started to hear details about other communities who offer such a program (there are 39, reportedly). Some offer more, some offer less. But either way, Michigan City is on the verge of doing something noble and amazing for its young people.

Soon, a committee was formed and details of the scholarship emerged. Included in those details were some restrictions:

• Students will be required to maintain a minimum GPA.

"Makes sense."

• Students will be required to fulfill a community service component.

"Great idea. Young people should be more involved in their communities."

• Scholarships are applicable toward tuition fees at regionally-accredited colleges, universities or post-secondary education programs in Indiana.

"That's a little weird. Why would it matter what state the school is in? Well, OK. No big deal, I guess."

• Eligible students' parents must own a home within the Michigan City corporate city limits.

"That'll be unpopular."

• Only students in the Michigan City Area Schools will be eligible.

"Wait, what?"

• In fact, only students who attend 7th through 12th grade in the MCAS may receive 100 percent of the scholarship. Students who attend a private school through 8th grade, but attend Michigan City High School for four years, are eligibile for 80 percent of the scholarship.

"Well, that doesn't seem right at all."

Look, I'm a champion of public schools. I'm also a product of them. They're obviously important. I applauded the city when it recently gave MCAS a half-million dollars toward needed technology upgrades. A program like this will definitely benefit MCAS and that's great. We should do all we can to prop up public schools.

However, telling a Michigan City citizen who meets every other requirement but attends a private school or is home-schooled that they are ineligible for this scholarship just seems wrong to me. Those students and their parents made a different choice about education, and that's OK. We shouldn't be punishing that. 

I can even get around the home ownership requirement. I don't think it's ideal — nor do I necessarily like it — but I understand it. I can deal with that. But the parents of students who attend private schools are also a valuable component of this community. To just ignore them seems unfair.

Now, this is the part where I put my discomfort with this situation on pause. We've been assured that this is only a starting point and the program could likely expand in the future. I also understand there are limited funds available and there's a lot of unknown about how this will all work.

While I'm not comfortable with telling one group of hard-working, tax-paying citizens that they're eligible for this and telling a different group of hard-working, tax-paying citizens that they are not, I'll accept the word of folks involved in the effort that this is an early stage of an ongoing effort that will be great for Michigan City.

I will, however, urge the people who are able to have an impact on the parameters of this program to work hard to get everyone included sooner rather than later. It's the right thing to do.

In the meantime, let's all celebrate what "promises" to be a great thing for Michigan City.

 

Contact Managing Editor Adam Parkhouse at aparkhouse@thenewsdispatch.com or 1-219-214-4170.

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