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Ark. panel recommends cut in lotto scholarships

Chuck Bartels, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- An Arkansas legislative committee recommended Tuesday once again reducing lottery-funded scholarship amounts, marking a drop of one-third since the awards were first given out three years ago.

The new scholarship amounts, which would have to be approved in the legislative session that starts next month, would give university students $3,300 per year and community college students $1,650. The new rate would be effective for the 2013-2014 school year.

The Legislature has to adjust the scholarship formula because lottery revenues are slightly down while demand for college assistance remains high.

"I think it's a combination of revenue not being where we hoped it would and more participation, which is a good thing," said state Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, who is a co-chairman of the Lottery Oversight Committee.

In 2010, the first class of lottery scholarship recipients was awarded $5,000 for university students and $2,500 for students at community colleges. That was trimmed the following year to $4,500 and $2,225, where it remained through this year's class. Students get half of the award in the fall and the other half for the spring semester.

The lottery funds about 30,000 scholarships per year. Revenues for the current fiscal year indicate about $90 million will be generated for scholarships, which is about 10 percent less than the projected budget.

Recipients will receive the scholarship amounts they were awarded when they started college, so present recipients won't see a cut.

Legislators also looked at other ways to adjust the scholarship formula. Key had suggested awarding scholarships of $2,000 to freshmen, and adding $1,000 per year so the award would top out at $5,000.

Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, is reviewing scholarship retention rates of students and how that aligns with ACT scores and grade-point averages. He has complained that half of scholarship recipients don't remain in college, which he said is a "waste" of the money.

Interim Higher Education Department Director Shane Broadway said the main reason students lose their scholarships is because they can't sustain a full-time course load — 15 credit hours per semester. He said in most cases, students have to work full-time or part-time. A wide variety of personal reasons also lead to students losing their scholarships, from being diagnosed with cancer to family problems, he said.

The panel voted down a measure that would have recommended lowering the scholarship requirement to 12 hours per semester.

Rep. Darrin Williams, D-Little Rock, said he didn't want to see a high ACT score as a requirement for a lottery scholarship because it would unfairly exclude students who don't test well but would become successful college students.

The panel voted against recommending that the Legislature approve enable a lottery-funded scholarship to pay for only one remedial course. Currently, the scholarships will pay for two remedial classes.

Williams cast his vote against the proposal.

"It seems very arbitrary and capricious," Williams said. "I suggest we have a lot more study on it."

As with other committees, membership in the Lottery Oversight Committee will change once new legislators are sworn in at the beginning of January.


Connect with Chuck Bartels on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cbartelsLIT