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Scholarships for 350 Maryland high school seniors have been restored, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced Wednesday, just days after state officials told scholarship winners they had lost the college money due to budget cuts.

Eliminating the Distinguished Scholars award, which provides $3,000 annually for high-achieving students who attend Maryland universities, was part of a package of budget cuts presented by O'Malley to the General Assembly this year. Cutting the award was estimated to save the state just over $1 million in 2012.

But in a statement, O'Malley said he never intended the cuts to impact this year's seniors, some of whom potentially committed to in-state colleges by May 1, days before the Maryland Higher Education Commission told students the award had been eliminated.

"Clearly, our commitment to honor existing awards was not fulfilled and I've directed MHEC to immediately correct the error and restore the four-year scholarships to all seniors who were expecting their award," O'Malley said in a statement.

O'Malley's announcement came after a story detailing the scholarship cuts was published in the Wednesday edition of The Baltimore Sun. Before that, word of the funding cut had spread among students and parents via online forums like College Confidential, and MHEC officials said several concerned parents had called their office with questions about the cuts.

Lindsay Michocki, a scholarship winner and senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, was "really, really upset" when she learned last week that she wouldn't be able to use the money to attend the University of Maryland, College Park next year as she had planned. On Wednesday, Lindsay's mother, Ann-Marie Michocki, greeted her after the school day with the good news.

"I just got home and my mom's like 'Oh, you got your scholarship back,'" Lindsay Michocki said.

"It's a great relief. It's wonderful," said Ann-Marie Michocki. "It's fantastic for all the other students as well."

With deadlines for most other scholarships long past, the Michocki family had been considering canceling their summer vacation plans in a last-ditch effort to put together Lindsay's tuition money before the university's August deadline.

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said she had planned on awarding senatorial scholarships from her office to any senior in her district who had lost their award as a result of the cut.

"I just felt like it was such an injustice being done to them," Jacobs said. "Everybody knows how difficult these times are, and to do this to young people right now, it's very hurtful."

Jacobs' office staff, she said, have been fielding "tens and tens" of calls from constituents complaining about the elimination of the scholarship.

Though funding has been restored for this year's seniors, Maryland high school students will be unable to apply for the scholarship in future years. The scholarship program, aimed at top-notch students in the academics and the arts, will be phased out starting next year and is scheduled to be eliminated completely by 2015.

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the governor was "surprised and frankly a little outraged," when he learned that scholarships had been yanked from graduating seniors.

"I think the decision to restore the money is indicative of that," Adamec said. "He was outraged that students even needed to be caught up in this error."

Adamec said there were "any number of options" for shifting money to cover the $1,050,000 in scholarships. But he said that with state revenues running ahead of projections, the money might not need to be taken from another area of the budget.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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childs.walker@baltsun.com


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