There's a push to keep Wisconsin students in Wisconsin for college. Lawmakers on Tuesday morning introduced their bill for the Wisconsin Merit Scholarship.
"I'm really excited about this. This is amazing," said Ray Cross, University of Wisconsin System president.
Cross spoke highly of the new proposal during a Tuesday news conference.
"We are competing today with other states, who are offering full rides to the best and brightest from our state," Cross said.
It's been a concern for years now, as Wisconsin loses more and more high schoolers to out-of-state universities.
"They get out and find out they have a better offer at Ohio State or some other institution. They leave and they don't come back," said Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater. "That's why I think this is critically important to get this in place."
The bill was created by Nass and Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva. It would provide a $5,000 scholarship to those with the highest ACT and SAT scores, but only if they choose a UW System school.
"Stats show that once we get students invested in going to school at a UW school, that they're far more likely to stay here in Wisconsin after graduation. That's really what we're trying to do here," August said.
The scholarship would be provided to any student who excels in school, no matter their background.
"The key thing here, and this is something I've long wanted to do, is to help everyone, whether low-income, middle-income, high-income. Your family income does not matter," Nass said.
To fund the scholarship, lawmakers are partnering with the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, which sells land given by the federal government. It has already sold 98 percent of public land in Wisconsin. The remaining 75,000 acres in northern Wisconsin would be sold to the Department of Natural Resources if the bill passes.
"The money that we would acquire will be put into a UW trust and it will eventually reach about $100 million. That principal will be there forever," said Matt Adamczyk, state treasurer.
Local school districts say they're intrigued by the proposal. Perry Hibner, with the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, is happy to see more opportunities for the students.
"Anything we can do to make college more affordable is really the approach we want to look at," Hibner said.
Hibner said he also has questions about how the scholarships will be distributed.
"One thousand sounds like a lot (of students) but you have more than 400 high schools in the state of Wisconsin. Is it going to be based on enrollment or are there going to be certain numbers each school receives?" Hibner said.
Lawmakers are still working out the answers, and are currently looking for co-sponsors for the bill. They say they are confident that, if passed, the scholarship program would have an overall positive impact.
"I think it's got the potential to be a turning point, a game changer for the state of Wisconsin," Nass said.
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