NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A revised proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues is advancing in the Senate.
The Republican-backed measure passed the Senate Education Committee 7-2 on Wednesday. The companion bill was to be heard in the House Education Committee later in the day.
The original legislation sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
Opponents have said the bill is unnecessary because the lottery’s education proceeds have increased 4 percent since 2005, with about $10 million more coming in a year.
Under the new legislation, the lottery scholarship requirements won’t change if the $10 million is sustained through 2015.
On Tuesday, Tennessee Lottery officials announced record sales of $130 million in February.
Note: Democrats say the amendment represents a victory, but perhaps doesn’t go far enough. News releases from Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney below.
News release from Sen. Lowe Finney:
NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney continued to oppose Wednesday an amended bill regarding lottery scholarship changes that are now virtually guaranteed not to take effect.
“The amendment on the bill means the legislation is unnecessary,” Finney said. “Rather than amend the bill, the measure should simply go away so as to ensure that over 5,000 Tennessee college students won’t find their scholarships in jeopardy unnecessarily.”
Senate Bill 2154, as originally written, would result in the reduction of 5,257 full HOPE scholarships due to changing eligibility requirements. The amendment passed Wednesday would trigger those reductions only if lottery proceeds did not maintain their current growth.
Annual net lottery proceeds are conservatively projected to increase $15 million over the next four years, on top of reserves that can fund the current level of scholarships for decades. Tennessee Lottery officials announced yesterday that February was the lottery’s best month in the program’s history amid a record-setting year.
“This bill never increased access to college, but at least now it doesn’t decrease access, either,” said State Senator Andy Berke. “We have a lottery surplus in this state, and an education deficit. It’s time to start talking about how to change that.”
Members of the House Education Subcommittee voted to delay the bill and the amendment on Wednesday, citing a request from some House Democrats for time to review the amendment.
“The important thing is that students will not lose their HOPE scholarships, whether this bill passes or fails,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “We would be better off now working to make sure there are jobs for our students when they graduate.”
News release from Sen. Jim Kyle:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee students can breathe easier Wednesday after State Senator Jim Kyle led efforts to successfully prevent cuts to 5,257 HOPE scholarships.
“Tennessee students and families are safe from having to worry about their access to higher education in our state,” Kyle said. “The jobs of the future depend on increasing our college graduates now. Tennesseans know this is no time to cut college scholarships.”
Lawmakers in a Senate committee Wednesday passed an amendment to Senate Bill 2514 that preserves HOPE scholarships if lottery proceeds maintain their current growth. The amendment comes two days after Kyle led House and Senate Democrats in calling on Governor Bill Haslam to stop proposed cuts to 5,257 HOPE scholarships.
Annual net lottery proceeds are conservatively projected to increase $15 million over the next four years, on top of reserves that could fund the current level of scholarships for decades. Tennessee Lottery officials announced yesterday that February was the lottery’s best month in the program’s history amid a record-setting year.
“Students dodged a bullet today,” Kyle said. “Instead, those students will have the same opportunities as hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who have earned lottery scholarships.”
The bill passed through Senate Education Committee and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Education Subcommittee at noon on Wednesday.