CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Governor Kenneth Mapp has called the 32ndLegislature into Special Session on October 26th to consider his proposal to provide free college tuition to Virgin Islanders.
Mapp said he submitted the free tuition plan to the Legislature five weeks ago.
“The President of the University has indicated that any further delay in the consideration of the proposed bill will hamper the University’s ability to implement this program in the Fall of 2019,” Governor Mapp wrote in his letter to Senate President Myron Jackson.
But gubernatorial candidate Soraya Diase Coffelt said that Mapp’s plan and the plan put forth by gubernatorial candidate Albert Bryan Jr. — each estimated to cost $3 million — would have adverse effects on the government’s already precarious financial position.
“Now is not the time to be adding yet another financial obligation on our burden-plagued government,” Diase Coffelt said. “The focus should be on generating revenues to pay down existing debts and stop the waste, misuse and abuse of public funds.”
Mapp’s bill establishes what will be known as the Virgin Islands Workforce Development Scholarship Program and offers free tuition to new, former or current students.
The plan, developed in conjunction with UVI, allows graduates from any U.S. Virgin Islands school – public or private – to apply for four years of free tuition regardless of their age or date of graduation. Governor Mapp has said the free tuition program will propel the Virgin Islands as a national leader in its commitment to educational advancement.
Once approved, the Virgin Islands Workforce Development Scholarship Program is set to begin in the fall of 2019 and will cover full tuition for students seeking either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any course of study offered by UVI. Provisions will be made for students dislocated because of the hurricanes.
The program was described as a major step in the social and economic development of the territory by UVI President David Hall.
“I stand beside Mapp with unwavering support of his vision,” Hall said when the groundbreaking scholarship program was announced. “This program has the potential to transform this territory and prepare residents to embrace the economic growth that is coming.”
Mapp told Jackson that both the Director of the Office of Management & Budget, Julio Rhymer, and Hall would be available to offer testimony on October 26th. He urged senators not to further delay consideration of this critical matter.
“In my view, this bill is important and can be life-changing for many in our community,” Mapp wrote. “Because of its importance, I believe that many within the Legislature agree that we should act on this matter so UVI can appropriately prepare to implement this program.”
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