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Gov.: No easy fix for lottery scholarship

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that there is no easy fix for New Mexico’s ailing lottery scholarship program, but suggested lawmakers should consider financial need in crafting a long-term solvency plan.

The Republican governor has said she wants the Legislature to come up with a balanced approach to fixing the lottery scholarship, which is facing a worsening budget crunch caused by rising tuition fees and increased use.

“I don’t think there’s that one silver bullet that’s going to fix it,” Martinez told the Journal. “It has to be several levers pulled so it’s long-lasting.”

Currently, any New Mexican who graduates from an in-state high school with a minimum 2.5 GPA is eligible to receive the scholarship, which covers full tuition – but not fees – for eight consecutive semesters. Students who receive a New Mexico GED are also eligible.

While the Martinez administration has not endorsed a specific solvency fix, Higher Education Secretary José Garcia, a Martinez appointee, sent 32 different lottery scholarship solvency scenarios to top-ranking state lawmakers last week.

Each of the 32 scenarios crafted by HED and presented to legislators is designed to bring annual scholarship spending in line with incoming revenue, which comes from lottery ticket sales.

They all would fundamentally change the scholarship program by implementing a mix of student GPA and financial need, both on a sliding scale, to determine award amounts. In addition, each of the 32 scenarios would separate the scholarships from tuition, meaning students or their families would have to make up the difference.

The 32 scenarios fall between two general bookends:

  • Increasing the minimum GPA to 2.75 and excluding students from high-income families from receiving scholarship awards.
  • Leaving the minimum GPA at 2.5 and allowing students from all income levels to continue receiving scholarship awards, but at varying amounts.

In his letter to House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, the HED secretary said the scenarios could help legislators come up with a final plan during their coming 30-day session.

Meanwhile, awards will have to be trimmed during this spring’s semester for the scholarship’s estimated 18,500 recipients if the Legislature does not approve both short- and long-term solvency fixes, Garcia has said.

Although Martinez has proposed spending $16 million in emergency funding to prevent scholarship cuts this spring, she does not support spending additional state dollars in coming years to prop up the scholarship program.

She said during the Monday interview that changes to the popular scholarship program should be made with students from low-income families in mind.

“I don’t want kids who want to go to college saying, ‘I can’t go because I can’t afford it,’ ” Martinez said.

The 30-day legislative session begins Jan. 21.