Candidates for governor exchanged barbs over statements from a West Virginia higher education official about the Promise scholarship and how it could be affected by state budget cuts.
But the official who made the comments said he was actually talking about how students would be affected if funding for Promise were cut -- rather than saying definitively that the program would be cut.
Paul Hill, chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, is quoted in an article that ran Sunday in the Gazette-Mail. The article states Hill believes a 7.5 percent budget cut affecting state agencies and programs could lead to some students missing out on scholarship money despite being eligible for the program.
"We will have to tell a number of students, 'You did everything right, but we don't have enough money.' And that would be a very serious problem for us," Hill is quoted in the Gazette-Mail.
In a statement emailed Monday through a spokesperson, Hill said that quotation was used in a misleading way.
"My comments in Sunday's Gazette article regarding the Promise Scholarship Program were taken out of context," Hill said in the statement. "The importance and value of Promise is undisputed. It is critical to the entire state of West Virginia. As such, it remains a top priority for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission."
Commission spokeswoman Ashley Schumaker said the previously referenced quotation from Sunday's article was the one taken out of context.
"He wasn't saying this was happening," Schumaker said Monday evening. "It was a scenario based on a hypothetical question."
The Promise scholarship is a publicly funded award that gives money to West Virginia high school students to pursue higher education in the state. If a high school student has a Grade Point Average of 3.0 or higher and scores above a 22 overall on the ACT-in addition to scoring above a 20 in each of the test's four sections-the student is eligible to receive up to $4,750 annually for tuition.
In August the state budget office told "certain state agencies" to cut their spending by 7.5 percent. The school aid formula - the method used to determine how much money with go toward K-12 education - and several other programs will be exempt from the cuts, according to statement sent by the governor's office in August.
Higher education was not included in those exemptions, said Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's re-election campaign. The commission recently sent a letter to Tomblin asking that it be exempt. The governor has not responded publicly.
Sunday's article states the Promise scholarship is partially funded from the state's general revenue, and quotes Hill stating the proposed budget cuts would affect that dollar amount.
Last week, Hill appeared before a legislative committee to discuss the effect of the budget cuts on the commission. When asked about whether the cuts would affect Promise specifically, he said "this alone does not per se impact the Promise scholarship."