House votes to expand Bright Flight loans

The Missouri House gave initial approval Tuesday afternoon to a bill that would add forgivable loans to the state’s higher education scholarship program.

HB 1308, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, would expand the Bright Flight program, which provides college scholarships to top-ranking high school seniors. Under the revised program, eligible borrowers would be able to receive forgivable loans for up to 10 semesters.

To qualify for the Bright Flight program, students must receive a composite ACT or SAT score in the top 3 percent or top 4th or 5th percentiles of all students in the state.

Thomson said the aim of his legislation was to encourage the “best and brightest” students to attend college in-state and seek employment in Missouri after graduation. The fiscal note for the program, he said, is estimated at around $7 million annually and would increase with the program’s growth.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R- Farmington, offered tentative support of the bill, but expressed concerns about spending taxpayers’ money on a program that didn’t offer a “guaranteed performance.”

“College graduates right now are not being employed at a high level at all,” he said.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, lauded Thomson’s efforts, arguing that high-achieving college graduates often pursue careers that can benefit Missouri.

“I think we do very little for the brightest in our state,” she said.

Rep. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis, agreed. Having the option of loan forgiveness would have made the cost of attending college substantially more affordable when she was a student, she said.

“It would have greatly influenced my decision,” she said.

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