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Paying for college with pot: Colorado county offers $420k from pot revenue to high school grads

In this Oct. 10, 2016 photo, the sun rises over Los Suenos Farms, America's largest legal open air marijuana farm, in Avondale, southern Colo. The harvest occurs at a time when marijuana is coming back into the spotlight in the city and county of Pueblo, where Avondale is located. If two ballot measures are approved on Nov. 8, they could impact growers like Los Suenos. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Hundreds gathered on the footsteps of the Pueblo County Courthouse Tuesday to celebrate scholarships awarded through the county’s marijuana excise tax revenue.

210 students, mostly graduating seniors from the region, received scholarships totaling $420,000. The awards were allocated by the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation. In an attempt to invest in the local community, all recipients have chosen to attend either Colorado State University-Pueblo or Pueblo Community College.

“We are the first community in the history of Colorado that has said that if you want a scholarship and you qualify and you opt in, that we’ll guarantee a scholarship to attend college,” said Sal Pace, Pueblo County commissioner, in his speech to the crowd.

Pace lamented about the high cost of college and the burden of student loan debt most students have upon graduation. He said the Pueblo County Scholarship is trying to “provide opportunity for all the kids in Pueblo.”

One of those kids is Donavyn Nailor-Lewis, a graduate of Central High School who will attend CSU-Pueblo. He plans to use part of his scholarship award for books. Nailor-Lewis said the additional funding will take “a load off” his back, especially since he has signed to played football with the university and plans to hold down a job, too.

Janet Chavez, a former recipient of a Pueblo County scholarship, took to the podium to state that the award has made college career easier by giving her a “sense of financial security” and allowing her to focus more on her classes.

Last year, the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners awarded 25 scholarships through marijuana excise tax. Pace said it was exciting to serve more students this year. There was also additional funding through the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative.

Jeanette Garcia, third congressional representative on the Colorado Commission of Higher Education, told the crowd, ““I am extremely proud of the amount of scholarships being awarded today as a result of our commitment.”

Garcia said higher education is a “public good” and said that college is not about enrollment, but completion.

“If we are to prepare our citizens for the changing workforce demands, maintain a high quality of life and a strong economy we must invest more in the educational attainment of our citizens,” she said.

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