Scholarship bill gets passed unanimously by ON Congress

Osage students will have their scholarships from the Nation.

The Second Osage Nation Congress unanimously passed an appropriation bill to fund the higher education scholarship program for the spring 2012 semester during its Special Session on Dec. 8.

The $2.5 million supplemental bill for the Education Department takes effect upon action by Principal Chief John Red Eagle or the Congress in the event of a veto. The bill (ONCA 12-07), which was a joint creation by the Executive and Legislative branches, adds funding to the Education Department’s 2012 fiscal year for the scholarships.

Congressman Eddy Red Eagle, who is chairman of the appropriations committee, said, “this is a definite positive work in progress . . . It’s also laying the foundation for future thinking,” with regards to the Executive and Legislative branches working together on the supplemental appropriation bill. ONCA 12-07 was amended with input from both branches during Congressional education committee meetings.

The Congress passed the fiscal year 2012 budget for the Education Department with $1.8 million in tribal funding. The $2.5 million supplement will be added to that amount, said Congressional legal counsel Loyed “Trey” Gill.

According to ONCA 12-07, there is $3.1 million reserved for the higher education scholarships and for the graduation stole awards. Each student who has applied for the scholarship funding will be eligible for a scholarship up to $3,500 for the semester.

“This bill is a result of a lot of hard work over the last four months to try to develop a system so that scholarship opportunities can increase and can be reviewed annually and can relate to the cost of tuition fees and books at schools,” said Congresswoman Shannon Edwards who sponsored ONCA 12-07. “And therefore, while it still provides a per-student sum this semester, it’s seeking to move toward examining just exactly how much it’s costing students to go to certain categories of institutions. It also seeks to reward students in the future for academic achievement.”

In her remarks to Congress before the bill vote, Edwards said “Change is difficult but this change has come with some good hard work by the Education Department. The director (Ida Doyle) has taken the time to look at some different models, to research but most importantly to go back and start collecting the data on our students to see where they’re going, where they’re headed, where they need extra attention . . . I think we are doing just as good a job as any tribe in providing scholarship opportunities for our students.”

Congressman Raymond Red Corn also commended the group effort to create the bill with compromises during the committee meetings. “This is one of those situations where this is the reason we have committees because this long detailed work needs to occur in situations like this,” he said.

ONCA 12-07 passed with 10 unanimous votes and two absences from Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear and Congresswoman Alice Goodfox.

The bill’s passage comes after efforts to pass a revolving fund bill for the scholarship funding failed during the Tzi-Zho Session.

Chief Red Eagle pocket-vetoed an $8.9 million appropriation bill (ONCA 11-104 – also sponsored by Edwards) to establish a revolving fund for the scholarship funds shortly after the Tzi-Zho Session ended Oct. 6.

Chief Red Eagle said he pocket-vetoed the bill after the Executive Branch objected to ONCA 11-104 over concerns the bill added scholarship eligibility requirements which would not equally serve all Osage students applying for the financial aid.

Edwards previously said she supports adding rules for scholarships into Osage law to require more accountability in handling the scholarship funding.

According to ONCA 12-07, there is scholarship funding for 912 students in the spring semester attending higher education institutions, which include vocational training schools and institutions ranging from two-year associate colleges to graduate colleges.