The Arkansas Senate on Monday passed identical bills creating a tiered award system for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, which is funded primarily through the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.

The proposal now goes to the governor’s desk. Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesperson, said today that Gov. Beebe will sign it.

“He’s been concerned and vocal from the outset about the size of the scholarship awards,” he wrote in an email. “He always felt it would be better to start lower and then raise the amounts if sales warranted. We’re left in a position where something had to change, and this is what the Legislature agreed upon. He’s glad to see that those currently in school will not see their scholarships affected. That’s always been a key precept for him on this issue.”

Under Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) and House Bill 1295 by Rep. Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia), scholarship recipients attending four-year schools would receive $2,000 their freshman year and an additional $1,000 each additional year for three more years, culminating with a $5,000 award their senior years. Students at two-year schools would receive $2,000 per year.

House Bill 1295 passed 34-0, while Senate Bill 294 passed, 31-2. The Senate bill will go to the House but is not necessary because of the passage of the House version.

The proposal would reduce the current scholarship awards of $4,500 and $2,250. It would increase the amount of awards for older, nontraditional students from $12 million to $16 million in the 2014-15 academic year.

The proposal does not change the qualification requirements for the scholarship: a 2.5 grade point average or a 19 on the ACT.

The proposal was deemed necessary because more students have qualified for scholarships and less revenues have been collected from lottery sales than expected. About $133 million was awarded in 2012-13, with lottery receipts totaling $97.5 million. An additional $20 million was added from state general revenue funds, as was intended when the program was set up.

“This will get our cash flow under control,” Key told the Senate.

The deficit has been covered using part of an $80 million surplus that accumulated when the lottery started, but that surplus is dwindling, according to Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

In other education-related news, the Senate also passed House Bill 1252, 29-3, allowing private colleges to maintain private law enforcement agencies to enforce state laws on campus. It also passed House Bill 1243, 31-4, allowing licensed staff and faculty to carry a concealed handgun on a college campus. Both are ready to go to the governor’s desk.

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.
Steve Brawner

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