Scholarship program faces backlash

By Andrea Cordle
Southwest Editor

Questions have come to surface about the Higher Education Investment Program in Grove City.

The questions come as council prepares to vote on a measure to appropriate $36,500 from the city’s general fund for the program.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, council had its first reading on an ordinance to set aside the additional funds for the program.

Councilwoman Laura Lanese said she wanted to clarify the intent of the program before the second reading and public hearing, which will be held Aug. 15.

“How much money and time has been spent on this program?” asked Lanese.

Lanese said the intent of the higher education program was to give the city an economic advantage.

“How are we going to track that success?” Lanese questioned.

The questions come about a week after Grove City Council received a formal letter of complaint about the program from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

The foundation has accused the city of violating both the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution in regards to the separation between church and state.

The complaint says, “It is our understanding that Grove City offers its residents scholarships to attend Ohio Christian University’s local campus, at the Grove City Church of the Nazarene, as part of the Grove City Higher Education Investment Program. We are writing to request assurances the Grove City will not award any scholarships to OCU in the future.”

City council adopted the higher education program to keep college educated residents in the area. According to city documents, the goal of the program is to transform higher educational opportunities in Grove City and to enhance the the area’s knowledge-based industry. It also aims to attract high paying jobs through an educated workforce and stop younger people from leaving to seek other opportunities.

“This was meant to retool residents with the skills needed to be successful,” said councilman Ted Berry.

Students can receive a maximum of $12,000 to attend an accredited higher education program within the city of Grove City.

Berry said the school has to have a presence in the city, so that allows the scholarship recipients to attend Harrison College, Columbus State Community College or Ohio Christian University.

“We don’t discriminate against where the students want to attend,” said Berry.

When it was adopted, council appropriated $350,000 for the program.

The FFRF believes it is unconstitutional for the city to use taxpayer funds to subsidize religious instruction at OCU.

“Supporting a form of worship, and showing preference for Christianity above other religions, is exactly what Grove City does by giving taxpayer-funded scholarships to students to attend OCU,” said the complaint.

Berry said the city is not violating the separation of church and state.

“We do not determine where they (the students) choose to go,” said the councilman. “Students must meet a criteria. If they do, they can choose any school as long as it is located in the city and is an accredited school by the state of Ohio.”

The foundation requested written assurances that the city would no longer fund scholarships to OCU as part of the program.

According the Berry, the city’s higher education investment program will not change in any way due to the complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Stephen Smith, the law director for Grove City, said the scholarship money goes directly to the higher education institution, not the student, which is why the students must disclose the name of the school.

“We need to verify the school is in the area. It is not based on religion,” said Smith.

The city has received 42 applications for scholarships, including 31 full-time students and 11 part-time students for the upcoming fall semester.

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