Proposed TN bill could impact which students and universities receive grant money

WATCH: Proposed TN bill could impact which students and universities receive grant money

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An amendment to a Tennessee texting and driving bill could impact which students receive millions of dollars in financial aid.

The amendment is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris from Shelby County, but there is already growing backlash from local colleges and universities.

It all has to do with how much financial need grant money certain colleges and universities get.

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Under the current state-funded grant program, students who qualify based on family income, get different amounts depending on what type of college they attend.

Community College students are eligible for $1,000 is grants. Public four-year campus students can receive up to $2,000. Private colleges and universities are eligible for $4,000 in financial assistance, if they meet the criteria.

Senator Norris believes public school students should get the same amount as private school kids. His recent amendment to SB1502 – HB 2426 has set off a battle that could have a major impact on schools in our area.

Dr. John Smarrelli, the President of Christian Brothers University, was caught off guard when he heard his university’s students could lose $600,000 in grant money.

“I was surprised,” he said.

A large portion of his students from lower-income families…receive more than one million dollars in state grants.

“These are poor kids trying to get a high-quality education,” said Dr. Smarrelli.

Students at private schools like CBU, Rhodes, or LeMoyne-Owen are eligible for more grant money than if they attended a public university, like the University of Memphis.

State Senator Mark Norris wants to drop private schools down from $4,000 to 2,000 dollars, so public and private university students are eligible for the same amount. Community college students would still be eligible for $1,000.

"It came to our attention that TSAC is awarding twice as much financial aid to private school students as to public school students," said Senator Norris, in an emailed statement to FOX13 News.

"This does not take anything away from students. It calls for parity in funding which, according to THEC, may increase access to financial aid to as many as 10,000 additional students."

“I think it is a reasonable argument, but if you look at the percentages with what they are receiving…there's no discrimination either way,” said Dr. Smarrelli. “From a percentage point-of-view it's the equivalent. So why penalize the independents for that?”

Norris believes the amendment will level the playing field and help more students in the state of Tennessee.

CBU, Rhodes, LeMoyne-Owen worry it will hurt their current students and discourage future students from attending, due to an increased price tag.

“Quite honestly, I want the amendment to go away. I think we have a good system in place right now,” said Dr. Smarrelli.

The schools most affected would be the ones like LeMoyne-Owen, Lane College, and other HBCU's, where a majority of students receive some financial aid grants.
The CBU President told FOX13 he is more worried about how it could affect their students and enrollment.

Many of the private colleges and universities have already contacted Senator Norris and other lawmakers.

It is unclear if the lobbying will have any impact on the amendment’s future.