House panel kills legislative scholarship bill _lowres

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and Sharon Courtney, vice president of government affairs at Tulane University, discuss legislation Wednesday, May 21, 2014 about granting legislative scholarships. Two Jefferson Parish lawmakers are awarding their 2016-17 scholarships through the Jefferson Dollars for Scholars program.

A Jefferson Parish program that usually awards college scholarships to public high school graduates also will award two Tulane University scholarships on behalf of two state legislators this year.

The Tulane scholarships may go to either public or private high school graduates or to current Tulane students.

Jefferson Dollars for Scholars, which has given scholarships to needy students for more than two decades, will choose scholarship recipients on behalf of state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, and state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

The two legislators are letting the Jefferson program handle their scholarships under the Tulane Legislative Scholarship program, a 132-year-old initiative that allows each of the Louisiana Legislature’s 144 members to annually award a one-year scholarship.

It is the first year the program has awarded Appel’s scholarship and the second year it has awarded Stokes’ scholarship, program director Lisa Conescu said.

The two Tulane scholarships are open to any high school graduate who lives in either lawmaker’s district and who is admitted to Tulane, or any full-time Tulane student who has earned at least a 2.3 cumulative grade-point average and who lives in either lawmaker’s district.

The scholarships will cover Tulane tuition only for the 2016-17 school year. In subsequent years, the winners will need to secure new nominations from Appel and Stokes or from other legislators.

Other scholarships are open to Jefferson public high school seniors. They include partial scholarships, both to specific colleges and to the students’ colleges of choice. At minimum, students receive $500 a year for four years and a refurbished laptop.

Applications for both types of scholarships are due Feb. 5.

The Tulane scholarship giveaways have long been controversial. A 1990s Times-Picayune investigation and a recent probe by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV found that the sons and daughters of the well-connected often benefit from what some have decried as sweetheart deals.

A Senate bill that would have curbed legislative influence on the scholarship awards was rejected two years ago by a House committee, though Tulane agreed to take many of the steps the proposed law would have required.

Appel said he selected the Jefferson program to award his Tulane scholarship because it excels at what it does, not because he was looking to avoid favoritism accusations. “Those people have done magnificent work with that program in general,” he said. “I just felt like this is the right thing to do.”

He has not worked with the group before this year because he was giving his scholarship to a Tulane student who recently graduated, he said.

The Tulane scholarship program is generally problematic, he said, because there are few limitations on who may get the awards. “It leads people to think that there is some kind of corruption, whether there is or isn’t,” he said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.