Promise scholarship approved, draws support

by Geoff Fox

In a 3-1 vote, town officials approved the promise scholarship for local high school students, first proposed by Mayor Ralph Salvagno in February. Councilman Tim Boyer was the lone vote against the scholarship.

During the May town meeting, Salvagno fleshed out plans for the scholarship by adding four statements to a draft document he produced for the previous meeting.

In that document, Salvagno noted 40% of graduating seniors in Maryland did not enroll in a post-secondary education within a year of graduation, citing a lack of financial resources.

The document states by 2020, 69% of jobs in Maryland would require a postsecondary education. A College Promise program would help the town’s economy, employers and citizens, the plan says.

The budget for the program would be based on the town’s equity interest in Harvest of Maryland, a medical cannabis grower in Hancock.

Funding would be allocated two years in advance and be 25% to 50% of the income from Harvest, Salvagno said. The funding would also be determined during budget approval each year, he added.

“That money will be used for scholarships two years from then, so 2021. So your promise is really being made to the tenth graders,” the mayor said using a 2019 starting point as an example.

The exact start date is to be determined.

The scholarship would also be the last line of defense once all other FASFA options are depleted.

Salvagno said Hagerstown Community College (HCC) would administer the scholarship.

Councilman Levi Little said the idea of the scholarship is a way to draw young families back to Hancock because “there aren’t a lot of young families that within our town.”

He said even though the money is not coming from tax dollars, the scholarship could be an incentive from the town as a result of smart investing.

The document also includes a list of five participating local educational institutions in Washington County offering associate or associate of applied science degrees – HCC Kaplan University (Purdue University), Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, Barr Academy, and Award Beauty School.

The thing Little was a little on “the other side” about, kids going to other schools.

The scholarship itself would be open to a student enrolled at Hancock High School, student certified by Washington County as home schooled and meeting graduation requirements set forth by the state of Maryland. To be eligible, the student has to have been a resident of the town of Hancock for two years.

There is also a list of state approved non-public schools in Washington County students could be attending, but the student must have been living in the town of Hancock for two years.

Salvagno said magnet schools or vocational schools would have to be added into the list as well.

Boyer said including schools outside of town wouldn’t bring kids back to Hancock or help the high school by raising enrollment.

Salvagno said he agreed with both Little and Boyer, but the whole point was not where they go to school but where they live.

“There’s two different objectives – the objective of helping the school and there’s an objective of helping kids with education,” he said. “If we want to accomplish both, then we limit to Hancock High School.”

Officials also discussed a priority of who would get the scholarship.

Getting top priority would be Hancock High School, vocational students, home schooled students, and GED students.

If there were any funding available, then Hancock students at other schools, such as St. Maria Goretti, could be eligible.

Another addition to the document addressed the future of Hancock High School.

If the school should ever close, officials said the scholarship would also go away.

Boyer said he wanted to know the benefit to the town and how it can better the town itself.

He argued the scholarship would not bring people to live in Hancock.

Boyer said his intention is to send his daughters to a community college and then on to a four-year degree and use the program.

“That is not going to change the fact of whether they go to college or not,” he said.

Little said this is where Boyer grew up, whereas the scholarship might bring people to Hancock who would come looking for opportunities.