Senators say no to three ‘lottery beauty pageant contestants’

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 2,558 views 

In an arrangement Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, compared to being one of the final three contestants in a beauty pageant, three senators sat together in front of their fellow Arkansas lawmakers Monday (April 19). Each made closing arguments for their bills that would have added new scholarship awards funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, rather than each bill being considered entirely separately as is always the case.

But this time, no one was given the crown.

In a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees, none of the three proposals were able to gain the five votes needed on the Senate side and didn’t advance to the House side.

The unusual arrangement was the result of Act 636 by Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, passed earlier this session, which created the process for considering bills affecting lottery scholarships that includes consideration by the House and Senate Education Committees.

The three bills that failed were the following.

– Senate Bill 457 by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, would have extended eligibility for lottery-funded Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships to students with intellectual disabilities who participate in comprehensive transition and post-secondary programs. Those programs involve collegiate academic coursework and other job preparation skills. The bill had a $1.4 million fiscal impact, which was well below the $12.5 million available for additional lottery awards between the three bills. Four senators voted yes and four didn’t vote.

– Senate Bil 462 by Elliott would have made the scholarship available to students who have a 2.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. The scholarship currently is available to students who score a 19 on the ACT test. Elliott told legislators the 19 ACT score is not a good predictor of success in school and leaves out too many minority students who are capable of post-secondary work but don’t do well on the test. The bill had a $38.5 million fiscal impact. It failed with four senators voting yes and four not voting.

– Senate Bill 648 by Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, would have created the Arkansas Challenge Plus Scholarship Program, which for needy students would have provided additional annual scholarships in $1,000 increments up to an added $4,000 the first year, $1,000 the second year, and $1,000 the third year. The current Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program awards $1,000 the first year, $4,000 the second and third years, and $5,000 the fourth year. Eads said the program would help needy students through a financial hurdle early in their college career. The bill failed with three senators voting yes and five not voting.

If the bills had passed and equaled more than the $12.5 million, the total amount awarded would have been prorated.

Earlier that day, the Senate Education Committee failed to pass Senate Bill 649 by Sen. Charles Beckham, R-McNeil, which would have required at least 20% of lottery net proceeds go to scholarships in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, with 1% more required each year until 25% was required for scholarships for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2027, and each fiscal year thereafter.

Beckham said the lottery is supposed to be a scholarship lottery but only a small percentage – 18.6% is the average, according to Director Eric Hagler – goes to scholarships. Meanwhile, other states pay a higher percentage of their proceeds to scholarships.

Hagler responded that the lottery has funded more than $1 billion in scholarships since 2011 and is returning to health after suffering financial distress in 2014. He said a mandate would force the lottery to focus on a single number in spite of ordinary business cycles. Games are planned nine to 11 months in advance, and financial and marketing plans for fiscal 2022 are already completed.

Hickey spoke against the bill, saying a return can’t be mandated in business.