Government and Higher Education

Former state representative joins Muskegon Promise board

Lakeshore county is one of 10 areas trying to replicate Kalamazoo’s success.

February 14, 2014
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Muskegon County is making progress as it becomes the ninth Promise Zone to begin the process of paying for students to attend college.

Holly Hughes, former Montague Area Public Schools board member and state representative, was appointed recently to the Muskegon County Promise Zone Authority by Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger. Muskegon County is one of 10 Promise Zones in the state. The initiative was signed into Michigan law in 2008 and was based on the success of the 2005 Kalamazoo Promise, which offers college funding to students within certain geographical boundaries who complete their high school studies in a satisfactory manner.

“I am really excited to be on the board and be able to follow up with the legislation that I started, and to be able to work hard to make sure that our kids in Muskegon County — more of them — will be able to go to college,” said Hughes.

According to the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, “The purpose of a Promise Zone is to support local efforts to promise a college education to K-12 students who reside within the zone.”

In 2009, 10 cities in Michigan were selected by the Michigan Department of Treasury to promote economic development and raise educational attainment.

The Michigan Promise Zone Act allows MAISD to establish a board to plan and evaluate the possibility of raising the funds necessary to finance the Promise Zone for two years. After two years of gifting students with privately funded scholarships, the area can “capture one-half of the growth in the state education tax to be used for a two-year associate degree or up to a four-year degree for residential students,” according to district’s website.

Hughes had a personal hand in the legislation as state representative for Muskegon in order to make the Promise Act workable for the county. Known as a clean-up bill, Hughes proposed giving the Promise Zone Authority Boards the opportunity to raise or lower the grade point average requirement to determine the number of students in the program.

MAISD Superintendent Dave Sipka stated in a press release: “Holly is a wonderful choice by Speaker Bolger since she assisted the Muskegon Promise Zone Authority in rewriting the old Promise Zone legislation. She played an integral part in making sure the legislation works for thousands of students around the state and in our county.”

Without the new law, which was passed in December 2013, Hughes commented there was concern the 2008 Act would not have been possible with the number of students in the program. In order to fully fund the 850 students who qualified for the program, the Promise Zone Board in Muskegon County would have to fundraise $20 million.

“Because of our uniqueness, it will also help the other nine districts go after the funding that they need,” said Hughes.

Although the ultimate goal is to fund the full 850 students, it wouldn’t be possible to show some kind of progress within the necessary timetable. The solution was to raise the GPA needed to qualify for the program in order to begin the initial groundwork for the grant program.

Eight other counties have started the fundraising process, but only the Baldwin Promise Zone in Lake County has been able to fully fund its students. Part of the reason, Hughes said, is that the Baldwin program has 17 students and incorporates only one district.

The Muskegon County Promise board has to decide which districts to finance right away and how many. Hughes said the board may only start with three out of the 16 school districts, including private schools, and hopes to raise between $2 million and $7 million to begin.

“The more money we can raise in that first period, the faster we can get to our end goal and the more kids we can help in the end,” she said.

It could take two to three years — or as long as four or five years — before grants can be handed out to eligible students, Hughes said. The board is still in the planning stage before it can begin fundraising from the private sector.

“I am committed to making a real difference by continuing our work in helping with the education of our children so they can get jobs to support themselves and their families and have a brighter future.”

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