News release from House/Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE (March 5) – Tennessee Democrats called on Governor Bill Haslam Monday to stop a legislative effort to cut more than 5,000 lottery scholarships.
“This legislation is short-sighted, unnecessary, and harmful to our students and our economy,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis). “The Governor has stated that college isn’t for everyone, but that it needs to be for a lot more Tennesseans than in the past. Under this bill, college will be something else for thousands of Tennesseans. It will be out of reach.”
The bill would mandate that students meet requirements for both grade-point average and standardized testing in order to secure a full HOPE scholarship at a four-year university. Currently, students must meet one of the two standards.
Under the proposal before the legislature (Senate Bill 2514), 5,257 students would be ineligible for a full lottery scholarship, meaning they would have to shoulder a greater percentage of their tuition as the cost to attend college continues to rise. The news comes as lottery officials report record revenues and the lottery reserve fund stands at about $330 million.
Tennessee ranks in the bottom 10 states in number of college graduates produced. A report from Complete College America, which helped Tennessee create the Complete College Act in 2010, estimates that by 2020, nearly 60 percent of jobs in Tennessee will require some form of higher education.
“Nowhere in the Complete College Act does it say, ‘Cut college scholarships.’ How can we increase college graduates if we decrease access to college?” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley). “We should be looking to models that are working to increase college graduates, so that we can continue to grow jobs and grow our economy.”
Democrats are calling for the defeat of Senate Bill 2514 and the consideration of a proposal to provide one-time funding to the state’s technology centers, which have been hailed as a national model for career preparation. Several of the state’s 27 centers have graduation rates of 80 percent or higher.
“If we’re serious about making Tennessee competitive in the regional, national and global job market, we have to get serious about putting more Tennesseans in college and making sure they graduate,” Fitzhugh said. “Tennesseans deserve that opportunity, and they deserve the Governor’s support.”