Senator: Lottery Funds Should Go To Advancing Students

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 2 views 

The incoming chairman of the Senate Education Committee is still considering options for increasing lottery scholarship awards as students advance toward their degrees, even as a legislative panel is recommending all scholarships be reduced starting in 2013-14.

However, State Sen. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) said in an interview that a tiered-approach he suggested in September is one of many options to be considered as the state Legislature prepares to go into session in January.

This past year, all eligible students received $4,500 lottery scholarships for attending four-year schools and $2,250 for attending two-year schools. With lottery funds failing to keep up with expenses, Key had proposed cost savings by awarding students $2,000 as freshmen and an additional $1,000 for each year completed, topping off at $5,000 their senior years. The increasing amounts would reward students for moving toward a degree.

But he is also looking at other options after talking with Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas system, and Dr. Chuck Welch, president of the Arkansas State University system. The two told him a $2,000 freshman award would put four-year schools at a disadvantage because it would pay for a much higher percentage of the tuition at two-year schools.

Facing high student participation rates and lower than expected revenues, the Arkansas Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee Tuesday voted to recommend that the Legislature reduce scholarship amounts during the 2013-14 school year to $3,300 for students attending four-year schools and $1,650 for those attending two-year schools. Key chairs that committee.

Forty percent of freshmen receiving $20 million in lottery scholarships can’t meet the requirements for keeping them. Currently, freshmen who score a 19 on the ACT after graduating high school with less than a 2.5 grade point average are eligible for the scholarship. Meanwhile, upperclassmen with less than a 2.5 lose theirs, even though they are much farther along on the path to graduation.

Key said some kind of tiered-approach would fit with Gov. Beebe’s stated goal of increasing college completion rates. Starting in the 2013-14 fiscal year, the state will tie five percent of state funding for colleges and universities to completion rates. That amount will increase by 5 percent a year until 25 percent of a school’s state funding is tied to that metric.

The state also has been experimenting with various methods of instruction and student support using a Complete College America grant from the Gates Foundation. It also is making available a college-level math class for non-math-related majors at public colleges as a replacement for college algebra, which is a difficult class for many students.