Maricopa City Hall

The Maricopa City Council has donated $15,000 the past two years to “charitable causes.”

MARICOPA — When it comes to college tuition, every cent makes a difference for students struggling to get a higher education. Since 2014, the city of Maricopa has been working to ease the burden of paying for college through its scholarship match program.

The program, which aims to support the education of students from Maricopa, matches dollar for dollar the funds that nonprofit organizations raise for scholarships. However, since its start, there have been a few hitches in the program — the biggest being determining what organizations and students fit the eligibility requirements.

Criteria for eligibility lists that any applying organization must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and must prove financially able to match the funds the city provides. Scholarship recipients must also be graduating students living within the boundaries of the Maricopa Unified School District.

Yet there has been some stipulation about the boundaries defined within the program’s guidelines. As it currently stands, organizations can award scholarships to students who live within the MUSD boundaries but who do not attend Maricopa High School.

Limiting the eligible recipients to students attending high school within MUSD would ensure that taxpayer money would stay within Maricopa and benefit its students and schools, some say. But in a city that dates back only 14 years, the problem with restricting student eligibility is that not all students living in the city can attend Maricopa High School.

As Councilwoman Nancy Smith points out, that’s especially the case for students with special needs. “There are all types of reasons why a parent sends their child to a different school,” she said. “It could be because they’re deaf and they want to send them to a school specifically for (the) deaf.”

Confusion surrounding student eligibility was so great that the city was unable to begin accepting applications for the match program on time and was forced to push back the March 31 deadline.

During the April 4 Maricopa City Council meeting, members were especially concerned by the lack of applicants that apply for the match. Several members argued that imposing more restrictions would reduce the number of applicants.

According to Councilwoman Julia R. Gusse, many nonprofit organizations, such as the Caesar Chavez Foundation, are unwilling to apply for the grant because the match is already too restrictive.

“In the case of Maricopa, there aren’t enough applicants to take up their money, so say they (apply) for a thousand-dollar match, they can’t give that thousand dollars to anyone but Maricopa students, therefore holding up their money,” Gusse said. “They want to be able to distribute that money any way they can to whoever applies.”

In an effort to make the program more inclusive and encourage more organizations to apply, the council moved to allow residents of Maricopa to receive the funds regardless of the school they attend.

The city is expected to begin accepting applications on April 22. Eligible nonprofits are encouraged to apply via the city’s website. Applications are expected to close on April 26.