Nearly a week after being presented with the Spirit of Beckley award, I am still overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and I have difficulty finding the words to express how grateful I am for the honor. It is an experience I will never forget.

As I mentioned Monday evening, rather than being the recipient of an award from members of the Beckley community, I should be the one offering thanks to each and every one of you. Ever since I arrived here in the early 1980s, I have been cared for and encouraged by the warm, giving people here, and I can’t think of a better place for my family to call home.

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Lately there has been a lot of disagreement and consternation over the issue of West Virginia’s PROMISE scholarship program and its funding needs. There is no doubt that the debate will continue during the upcoming legislative session as both members of the House and Senate finance and education committees consider the program’s affordability and discuss its feasibility.

Just a quick look at what has been accomplished thus far shows the program has been very successful.

It was lawmakers’ hope that by offering a scholarship that requires obtaining a certain ACT test score, the state would encourage students to seek more challenging course work. Statistics show that the number of West Virginia students taking “advanced placement” courses has risen dramatically.

In turn, students are working harder to maintain good grades. In addition to the required minimum ACT score, a prerequisite of the PROMISE scholarship is a minimum “B” average in high school. Although most counties are still experiencing declining enrollment, the number of high school students qualifying for PROMISE continues to rise. Combining the ACT requirement with the “B” average requirement ensures that inflated grades are not the cause of that trend, but rather improved achievement.

Another major goal of PROMISE was to keep these bright students within West Virginia’s higher education system, whether at four-year institutions or two-year community colleges, by offering to cover tuition and mandatory fees to those who meet the qualifications. It has long been known that about three-fourths of West Virginia students who graduate from West Virginia colleges remain in the state for at least five years. Thanks in large part to the PROMISE program, more and more students are choosing West Virginia colleges.

And about 75 percent of the PROMISE scholars are poised to complete college — another stipulation of the program being that students maintain a “B” average at the higher education institutions.

But the program is not without problems. The ever-increasing number of students who qualify for the generous scholarship is proving to be a difficult drain on the state budget (more than half of the state’s general revenue budget is earmarked for education).

This is a difficult issue. Funding for PROMISE has increased significantly each year, and that practice cannot continue indefinitely. I am surprised to note that the PROMISE board, which is assigned the task of setting standards for the program, has not acted to keep the program from growing out of control. When the program was first created, the Legislature stipulated that the board impose additional objective standards, such as a higher required ACT score, to promote academic achievement and to “maintain the stability of the fund.”

The Legislature has continued to support the PROMISE scholarship program by increasing funding year after year, but has refrained from micro-managing by interfering with the work of the PROMISE board. I am certain the question of what further steps should be taken to ensure the financial stability of the fund will continue to be discussed among legislators, and I hope that a similar discussion is taking place among PROMISE board members.

— Contact House Speaker Kiss, D-Raleigh, by phone:

340-3210; by writing: Office of the Speaker, Room M-228, Building 1, Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305; or by e-mail:

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