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Editorial: Scholarship fund panel a scratcher that didn’t pay

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House Joint Memorial 14 held such promise when it passed last year. Having three state senators, three state representatives, three folks from higher education, three college/university students and three gubernatorial appointees address the looming insolvency of the Lottery Success Scholarship fund was like having a Fiery Fortunes scratcher (top prize $200K) and a shiny quarter.

Unfortunately, after three meetings of this task force, the students who depend on a lotto scholarship for their college educations have ended up with nothing more than a pile of silver shavings and a piece of worthless cardstock.

And the same Legislature that decided last year a one-time raid on the Tobacco Fund made more sense than a long-term plan to ensure fiscal viability and student success will start next year from, well, scratch.

Higher Education Secretary José Garcia, the task force’s co-chairman, says scholarships might have to be scaled back if the 2014 Legislature does not adopt fund reforms – a $27 million shortfall is projected this year – yet his task force experience has shown him “we’re never going to find consensus.”

Clearly. Warnings that the fund is on a path to insolvency go back at least to 2006, when 2016 was the go-broke year projected.

Nobody can say lawmakers haven’t had some lead time to tackle this.

Their discussion should not be about making everyone happy, or placing additional burdens on taxpayers in this fragile recovering economy, or, as co-chair Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, claims, equating standards with punishment. It should be about fiscal sustainability, the most effective investments in students’ futures, and providing a way to get through, not just to, college.

Garcia is right, increasing taxes to fund the program is “not a viable long-term solution.” But bringing the scholarship program in line with community and higher education goals of greatly increasing the number of post-secondary degrees in the state absolutely is.

The task force should have put its money on the 2010 Legislative Finance Committee analysis that recommended high school performance standards (GPA, college preparation or class rank); remedial coursework taken at lower-cost institutions and not counting toward the required course load; and stricter eligibility requirements for research institutions and four-year colleges vs. two-year colleges.

Right now, lotto scholarships are doled out to all comers with a GED or 2.5 GPA. Asking more of New Mexico’s college-bound students than a diploma and a middle “C” isn’t punitive; it’s setting clear goals they can achieve that should be coupled with helping kids who aren’t ready for college work get the preparation they need.

We need to do this as a state to not only keep the lotto scholarship program viable, but to help its recipients become successful, contributing members of the economy.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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