FRANKFORT – Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s efforts to help hundreds of thousands of families – by making college more affordable and by raising the state’s minimum wage – easily cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee this morning with bipartisan support.
“Taken together, these bills would do more to move Kentucky ahead than any others we consider outside of the budget,” said Speaker Stumbo of Prestonsburg. “It’s time we ease the costs families face sending their children to college, and it’s time to raise a minimum wage that has not budged in seven years.”
Under House Bill 626, this year’s graduating high school seniors would ultimately be able to attend a KCTCS school in the fall without paying tuition, after taking into account any federal, state and local aid and scholarships they receive. Those include federal Pell grants and the lottery-based KEES money high school students earn with good grades. Student loans would not count against the incoming college freshmen.
“It is one of the most exciting education ideas I have seen since 1990’s Kentucky Education Reform Act,” Speaker Stumbo told the committee members.
Kentucky Community and Technical College System President Jay K. Box, who also testified, said this bill “is all about the students.” He noted that the proposal would be similar to ones already in place in Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota. Another 10 states besides Kentucky are considering joining them this year.
During the committee vote, several members cited their strong support. Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville called it “a great bill.” Rep. Mike Denham of Maysville said, “It’s been needed for a long time,” while Rep. Tommy Thompson called it one of the most “bold” initiatives he has seen in years.
Following that vote, the Appropriations and Revenue Committee then approved House Bill 278, which would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.20, starting in August.
Speaker Stumbo said passing this bill would send “a positive message” to those families who have at least one person working for minimum wage. Rep. Linda Belcher of Shepherdsville pointed out that she is seeing many single mothers and older citizens in her area falling in this category.
The last increase in Kentucky occurred in 2009, under legislation that was approved in 2007. “Numerous states have raised their minimum wage since then, and none of them are seeing a negative effect,” Speaker Stumbo said. “On the contrary, the wage increase is boosting economies because those earning it are more likely to spend what they make on products and services they need. Polls show there is also strong support among our citizens, which is no surprise, because they know it is time.”
In addition to raising the minimum wage, House Bill 278 also would raise the exemption that keeps very small businesses from falling under the law. Currently, those whose gross wages are below $95,000 are not covered under the minimum wage law, a figure that has not changed in 40 years. The Speaker’s bill would raise that threshold to $500,000.
A gender-equity provision is also included, to ensure those who perform the same jobs and have the same qualifications earn the same salary.
Both bills now head to the House floor for a vote.
HOUSE BILL 626: Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program
· It would ensure tuition at a KCTCS school is free for qualified students, after factoring in scholarships and state and federal grants each eligible student receives.
· Student loans and work-study programs do not count against the scholarship.
· The program would begin this fall, meaning this year’s high school seniors would be the first class to qualify. More than 3,220 students are expected to enroll, based on the results seen in Tennessee’s Promise Program.
· According to KCTCS, the program is anticipated to cost about $13 million in the first year and close to $20 million in the second year.
To qualify, students must:
· Be a high school graduate OR receive a GED before turning 19. This includes home- and private-school students as well;
· Be eligible for in-state tuition;
· Enroll in a KCTCS school immediately after high school;
· Take at least 12 college credit hours per semester;
· Maintain a 2.0 GPA or better each school year;
· Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Length of scholarship:
Eligibility for the scholarship would end once the student:
· Has received money for six semesters;
· Has an associate’s degree; or
· Is four years removed from high school.
· There are provisions allowing KCTCS to grant leaves of absence for up to six months.
HOUSE BILL 278: Increasing minimum wage
· Would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour, which has not increased since 2009, to $8.20 an hour on Aug. 1, 2016.
· According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014, more than 55,000 Kentuckians earn the minimum wage or less.
· Twenty-nine (29) states have raised their minimum wage above the federal level. That includes four surrounding us: Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia.
· Nearly two-thirds of those working for minimum wage are women.
· More than half are older than 25.
· Those earning minimum wage earn $15,080 a year if they work full-time.
· HB 278 would raise the threshold small businesses have to meet to fall under minimum wage requirements. The current level, set in 1976, is $95,000. This legislation would raise that to $500,000.
· HB 278 also includes a gender-equity provision to ensure those working similar jobs and have similar education and experience earn similar pay.