Gov. Phil Bryant

Gov. Phil Bryant has vetoed a section of the financial aid appropriations bill that would have required grants for students attending private universities to be prorated in the event the state didn’t have enough money to fund all requested grants.

“The provision is unconstitutional in that, by attempting to exempt public university students from financial aid reductions, it purports to engraft substantial legislation onto an appropriations bill,” Bryant wrote in his partial veto message to the Senate.

“Second, Section 15 establishes separate rules for private university students,” he wrote. “While students at private universities would still be subject to reductions in financial aid if funds were not available, the bill would protect students at public universities from any pro rata reductions.”

“There is no compelling reason to protect grant awards of certain university students while refusing such benefits to other university students, when all have met the criteria of the law for the financial aid,” Bryant concluded.

Senate Bill 2956 received attention after legislators inserted language into the conference report eliminating “stacking” of financial aid grants, or the ability for college students to use more than one state grant per school year.

Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg

Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, was one of the six conferees on the final version of the bill. He said he had not studied the Governor’s message at this point but called the language in the bill a “fail-safe measure” only.

“The hope was that would never be enforced. So my hope is that our budget is good enough that that would never come into play, so that the veto really won’t matter,” Hopson said. “However, if the budget gets worse and there’s not enough funding to meet those needs, I don’t know that this issue could be revisited until January of next year anyway.”

Demand for state aid has increased recently, particularly for the Higher Education Legislative Plan for Needy Students (HELP), the state’s only merit and needs-based program. This school year, demand exceeded available funds by about $11 million.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.