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Parents rally around lottery scholarships

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Marta Parra told her oldest daughter she could never go to college because they didn’t have enough money – Parra hadn’t yet heard of the state’s lottery scholarship.

Now Parra’s younger daughter, a high school student, may not be able to attend either because the lottery scholarship could be reduced as soon as next year due to insufficient funds.

University and community college officials were notified in August that the lottery scholarship fund is in danger of going broke, paying out more than it’s taking in. In 2012, the fund paid more than $58 million while its revenues were at about $41 million. If the fund isn’t increased, scholarships could be scaled back.

Parra and about 60 other parents, teachers and students gathered at Washington Middle School on Monday night to implore lawmakers to put more money into the fund without raising eligibility requirements.

“The lottery scholarship is so important because it’s one of the only ways that our children can go to college and accomplish their dreams,” Parra said through a translator.

A University of New Mexico official discussed the need for more high school and college graduates in the state and said he’s trying to get 60,000 new higher education degrees to central New Mexico by 2020.

“We know how important scholarships are for getting students into college,” said Angelo Gonzales, an a assistant professor in the UNM College of Education. “We want to figure out how to help more of our students graduate from high school and go on to college.”

When asked by an audience member if the lottery scholarship would become need-based, Gonzales said he couldn’t comment.

“We are here tonight to make sure students in our community continue to have access to these scholarships, especially students with the most need,” said Diana Torres, assistant director of the Southwest Education Partners in Training.

The event, led by Albuquerque Interfaith, also featured numerous elected officials, including Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who suggested that $50 million be put into the fund.

“On the last day of the Legislature, we gave a $100 million tax cut to businesses in the state to try to improve our economy,” Ortiz y Pino said. “It turns out we were misled … the amount of money we spent on that is nowhere near as effective as fully funding the lottery scholarship.”