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Five lottery scholarship bills on table

SANTA FE, N.M. — Attempts to rescue the nearly insolvent New Mexico Lottery scholarship program came in the form of five legislative bills this session.

The lottery scholarship pays 100 percent of tuition for any New Mexico high school graduate with a minimum 2.5 grade point average who attends a state college or university. The fund is expected to be about $5 million in the red this fall, although scholarships will still be distributed.

Growth in tuition and enrollment, along with lagging lottery ticket sales, has depleted the scholarship fund. Students who maintain that 2.5 GPA in college and attend school full time are eligible to receive the funds for eight semesters.

Here are the bills and what they would do:

♦ HB 586, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Tijeras, and Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, and written by a group of UNM student leaders, would make the scholarships needs-based. For example, students from families with combined incomes of more than $100,000 would receive 70 percent funding. Those whose families make between $54,000 and $100,000 would get 85 percent, and those whose family incomes are less than $54,000 would get full funding. The bill would also raise the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.7. Current students would be grandfathered in.

♦ SB 451, sponsored by Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, would emphasize merits instead of financial need. It would establish a minimum score of 21 on the ACT or 1550 on the SAT, along with raising the GPA requirement to 2.75. Even though the aid would be available for only four years, students who do not graduate within six years would be penalized by having to pay back two semesters’ worth of tuition. Also, the scholarship would no longer pay for remedial courses. To be eligible, students would need to take at least 12 credit hours per semester in non-remedial courses.

♦ SB 392, sponsored by Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, would create two new sources of funding for the lottery scholarship fund. It is now funded entirely by lottery ticket sales. First, the bill would reappropriate 25 percent of the tobacco settlement fund to the lottery scholarship, infusing it with an additional $10 million annually, according to a fiscal impact report. The bill would also infuse the fund with tax revenue withheld from lottery winnings. Last fiscal year, that equaled to $1.1 million, the report says.

♦ HB 309, sponsored by Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, would reduce the amount provided to students who attend four-year colleges but would pay 100 percent of tuition for those who attend two-year colleges. The aim is to get students who are not ready for a four-year college to attend community college first. The bill would also reduce the number of semesters students can receive aid from eight to seven, and require that they take 15 credit hours instead of 12.

♦ HB 27, sponsored by Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, would give students who just graduated from high school an extra two years to enroll in college, instead of the current requirement that they enroll right away. Stapleton said this would help keep students who are not ready for college out of the fund for a couple of years. However, the state Higher Education Department, which administers the scholarship, said it would actually increase the number of new students eligible by 10 percent at a cost of $12.1 million for three years.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal