March 12 2009 12:00 AM

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero will announce during tonight's State of the City address his administration's plan to provide two years of free college tuition for graduates of the Lansing School District. The district would take advantage of the recently passed "Promise Zone" legislation, which would provide slots for ten school districts to enact programs similar to the Kalamazoo Promise.

The Promise Zone program would provide two years of tuition-free college for every student who completes their high school education in Lansing, with the aim of building the program into a four-year, tuition-free program. Promise advocates say it would attract residents and stave declining enrollment numbers.

Part of the money to fund the tuition grants would come from the state through a tax-capture device. The rest would be raised by the school district applying for the Promise Zone designation.

Bernero cautioned, however, that he is trying to temper his own excitement. "I'm trying not to get my hopes up yet," he said, in case a Promise Zone for the city doesn’t materialize.

Bernero said Monday that Kalamazoo is one of the only cities in the state operating with a budget surplus. He credits increased home-ownership (translating to increased property values and more property tax revenue for the city) for that city's fiscal fortunes.

Kalamazoo Schools “have the exact opposite problem we're having here. We're trying to figure out which schools to close, and how fast we can do it," he said, adding that the program could be an important cornerstone in righting Lansing's economy.

Bernero will give his State of the City address tonight at 7 p.m. at the Holmes Street School along Kalamazoo Street. Bernero’s address will also touch upon the economy, recent economic development accomplishments and Bernero’s own accomplishments in fighting for the auto industry during recent trips to Washington.