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Senate makes significant changes to "challenge grant" bill for higher education

The state Senate passed two major floor amendments to the "challenge grant" bill for higher education.

One dealt with NDSU and Planned Parenthood, the other with allowing students at the state's two private colleges to participate in the challenge grants.

The challenge grants require the institutions to raise money, and the state matches it. For every $2 the institutions’ foundations raise, the state will match it with $1. The bill has a $20 million cap.

Planned Parenthood and NDSU

One amendment is designed to end NDSU’s partnership with  Planned Parenthood.

NDSU received a grant from the Competitive Personal Responsibility Education Program funding through the federal Family and Youth Services Bureau. NDSU partners with Planned Parenthood to deliver that programming.

Some state lawmakers and Christian groups have called on NDSU to end that program. In 2019, 89 state lawmakers signed a letter, asking NDSU to refrain from working with Planned Parenthood.

"We have struggled with certain higher-ed institutions partnering with the nation's largest abortion provider," said the amendment's author, Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburg). She also organized the letter wring campaign in the 2019 Legislature.

Myrdal told the Senate her amendment mirrors what’s already in state law.

Sen. Howard Anderson (R-Turtle Lake) told the Senate he’s concerned about the broad reach of amendments like this. He said it could affect the colleges working with organizations such as the National Institutes for Health, because the federal government does fund some abortions.

"You know, we're always grasping at straws for ways to prevent abortions," Anderson said. "This can cause us more problems than it's worth."

The amendment was passed on a "verification vote," where the vote board remains dark, but each legislator can still vote "yes" or "no."

Expanding challenge grants for students in  private colleges

The amendment to expand the challenge grants to the two private Universities was authored by Sen. Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown).

"Just because a student makes a certain selection to go to a certain school shouldn't mean that they, as a citizen, shouldn't share in these opportunities," Wanzek said. "This challenge grant is again -- and I emphasize -- for the students in these private schools. It's to enhance the opportunity for students who choose these two universities."

Senators who opposed the amendment said the state has had a long standing policy of state dollars going to state institutions.

"I fear a bit of an erosion, if we allow two private institutions," said Sen. Karen Krebsbach (R-Minot). "Are we going to allow tribal colleges? What about beauty training and barber training, business colleges and so on? How far can we go with this?"

The amendment passed 24 to 23. And the full bill passed 29 to 18.

The bill will now be considered in the House.

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