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State Promises College Help Beginning in Third Grade

August 31, 1989

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Gov. Edward D. DiPrete today proposed a sweeping plan that would provide academic help to students from the third grade through high school and promise graduates money toward college costs.

In return, parents and children signing up for the ″Rhode Island Children’s Crusade″ would have to obey the law, avoid drugs, agree to work with mentors and tutors, have their report cards monitored by state officials and act as good examples in their neighborhoods.

Mentors would work with students much like the national Big Brothers program, giving advice and acting as companions and role models.

The state Board of Governors for Higher Education approved the program shortly after the DiPrete announced it this morning.

″Rhode Island is about to become the first state to embark on a program of this magnitude on a statewide basis,″ DiPrete said.

DiPrete said would be ″knocking on the door of the White House for a significant contribution″ of federal funds for the plan.

New York state last year enacted ″Liberty Scholarships″ for lower-income students accepted at public or private New York colleges. Rhode Island’s program goes further to enroll students at an early age and give them educational and social help, said Leila Mahoney, DiPrete’s senior assistant.

The crusade is aimed at the estimated one-third of the state’s 10,000 third-graders who receive subsidized hot lunches at school or whose families receive food stamps, Ms. Mahoney said.

It would seek to cut the dropout rate among those students in half, to 25 percent. As a result, an estimated 1,200 additional students each year would attend college and 1,200 would go on to other training programs.

Students from other families could seek mentors and tutoring help, but would not be promised the scholarships, Ms. Mahoney said. There would be little checking on a family’s financial status, she said.

″We don’t want the borderline people to slip through the cracks,″ Ms. Mahoney said. ″If three people cheat, that’s fine. They probably need our help anyhow.″

The Children’s Crusade would enroll its first class of third-graders in September 1991.

The maximum scholarship available when the youngsters reach collage age a decade later be $3,436 per year, the estimated tuition cost at the University of Rhode Island in the year 2000. The maximum scholarship would increase 5 percent a year after that, said Americo W. Petrocelli, the state’s higher education commissioner. Students attending other state schools and apprenticeship programs or proprietary schools would receive less.

Students attending private colleges, whose tuitions are higher, would receive the maximum scholarship. ″We really feel that if the program is successful, we may have made a fundamental change in certain patterns″ that contribute to students dropping out, said Petrocelli.

Ms. Mahoney plans to ask businesses, foundations and schools to contribute $10 million to a state-created foundation to get the program going. The state would be expected to contribute $3.2 million a year, bringing the fund, with interest, to approximately $50 million after 10 years, Ms. Mahoney said. The money would pay for scholarships, tutors and administrative costs.

″If it doesn’t work, we’ll give everyone their money back,″ she said.

Petrocelli said mentors would be recruited among high school and college students, the elderly and others. Report cards would be monitored by the state’s higher education office.

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