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VOL. 36 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 24, 2012




Lawmakers question need to half scholarships

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NASHVILLE (AP) - A report from state lottery officials showing record sales is reason to table legislation that would cut some students' lottery scholarships in half, Democratic leaders said Wednesday

Tennessee Lottery officials told members of the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee that the lottery has set record gross sales every month since July. They said the lottery's education proceeds have increased 4 percent since 2005, with about $10 million more coming in a year.

A proposal from a panel of state lawmakers would reduce by 50 percent the lottery scholarship award - also called the HOPE scholarship - for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.

Right now, students can get a scholarship worth $4,000 for each of four years if they either earn a 3.0 grade point average in high school or score a 21 on their ACT college entrance exam.

Students who attend a four-year i nstitution and meet one of the criteria would get a two-year award amount, under the plan. Those who meet one of the criteria and retain the award through year two would be eligible for a full award in year three.

The plan, which doesn't apply to students attending community colleges, is estimated to generate about $13 million in savings the first year and $17 million each year thereafter. The lottery scholarship program currently has about $400 million in reserves.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis told reporters outside the meeting that the reduction isn't necessary because lottery officials are sending "a clear message that they can sustain the scholarships," not to mention the lottery surplus.

"I believe we have some people on this committee who are just against the lottery," said Kyle, referring to one Republican member of the panel who called the lottery "immoral".

"It's one thing to be against the lottery, but you shouldn't b e against the school kids who benefit from the lottery."

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson agreed.

"I don't think we should do it," he said. "We've seen rising tuition over the last few years; we see it coming in years to come. Helping people go to college should be what we're about."

However, proponents of the proposal say it's needed because the cost of the scholarship program is still outpacing lottery revenues. To make up the difference in the short term, the state has dipped into the lottery reserves. If nothing is done, state officials estimate the lottery reserve balance could dwindle to about $145 million by 2021, including the $50 million that state law requires remain in reserve for the program.

Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she believes that justifies moving forward with the proposal to cut the lottery scholarships.

"We're spending more than we're taking in," said the So merville Republican. "You can't do that. Our obligation is good stewardship."

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