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Let’s rejuvenate lottery scholarship

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Since 1996, thousands of New Mexico students have benefitted from the Lottery Scholarship. Across our state, it has given young men and women opportunities that they might not have otherwise had, and it has allowed them to continue their educations with the hope of a brighter future.

This scholarship is a wonderful asset to our youths, and we must work to protect it. However, we must reform the scholarship, or we run the risk of limiting its benefit in an arbitrary manner.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are pressing solvency issues with the Legislative Lottery Scholarship.

Lottery sales that fund the scholarships are flat while rising tuitions and enrollment have demanded more than is available. This is an issue of great importance, and we must come up with lasting, legitimate solutions this legislative session.

If we do nothing, lottery scholarships at all institutions will be reduced to approximately 65 percent of their present levels.

I think there is a smarter way to continue the program. As a result — and in an effort to make the lottery scholarship most beneficial — I have introduced House Bill 309.

Under HB 309, current eligibility levels are maintained. Full tuition at community colleges is maintained. Scholarships at four year institutions are no longer linked to tuition levels.

Instead, students at research and comprehensive institutions will be awarded a basic scholarship and then a supplemental amount depending on lottery ticket sales and the balance in the scholarship fund.

It is estimated that for the coming fall semester, the basic and supplement amounts will equal approximately 75 percent of current tuition. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes a requirement so that other sources of aid, of which there are many, are sought before the lottery scholarship is awarded.

Because the bridge scholarship carries students through their first semester while they qualify for the lottery scholarship, HB 309 reduces the scholarship duration to seven semesters. This will not only allow for students to still receive funding, but it will also encourage graduation in four years — encouraging students to focus on their studies and to take on the responsibility of being a full-time student.

The bill also provides need-based students an incentive award when they reach junior status and again when they graduate.

This bill provides a lasting solution to maintaining solvency within the lottery scholarship fund, and I am honored to bring this legislation forward. I know that the students of New Mexico rely heavily upon this funding, and it is my hope that we can take the necessary steps to make sure that this scholarship remains a workable option for students who are committed to furthering their education — and especially for those who need additional help.

HB 309 accomplishes this goal and importantly encourages retention and graduation within four years.

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