BY SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE
LITTLE ROCK – In the fiscal year that just ended, the state lottery raised $97.5 million for college scholarships for Arkansas students.
The amount is a slight increase from the previous year, when the lottery raised $94.2 million. The lottery director estimates that $98.6 million will be raised in Fiscal Year 2013, which began July 1.
The state lottery sold $475 million in tickets in Fiscal Year 2012. After paying out prizes, advertising and covering administrative expenses, what money remains goes for Academic Challenge Scholarships for students at Arkansas four-year universities and two-year colleges.
An estimated 64,708 students have received scholarships paid for by lottery sales. Now, they are worth $4,500 a year for eligible students at four-year universities and $2,250 a year for students at two-year colleges.
The first group of students to get lottery scholarships received $5,000 and $2,500. However, the legislature had to lower the amounts by 10 percent to make sure there would be enough money available. Budgeting for college is already difficult for most families, so legislators want to ensure that when students receive scholarships as freshmen, they can be certain of receiving that same amount for four years of higher education.
The first full year for the lottery was Fiscal Year 2011, when $464 million in tickets were sold. The first Arkansas lottery tickets were sold in September of 2009, and $373 million in tickets were sold in the nine months of the first fiscal year that the Arkansas lottery was in operation.
To qualify, a graduating high school student must have a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 in the Smart Core curriculum and score a 19 on the ACT standardized test.
Students who have a 2.5 GPA but do not have the Smart Core curriculum must also score proficient, or higher, on end-of-course assessments.
To keep the scholarships once they’re in college, students must enroll in at least 12 hours their first semester and at least 15 hours in following semesters. In other words, they must earn 27 hours of academic credit their freshman year and 30 hours in following years. They must maintain a cumulative 2.5 grade point average.
The Higher Education Department, which administers the Academic Challenge, is emphasizing the need to maintain grade point averages and to enroll in sufficient hours. That is because so many students lose their scholarships after they have gone off to college.
According to the department, last year almost 40 percent of the two-year students who had received a scholarship eventually lost it. Their average GPA was 2.3. Almost 21 percent of the four-year students who started the year with a scholarship lost it. Their average GPA was 2.08.
In the 2013 regular session, legislators will thoroughly examine estimates of lottery revenue and consider whether any changes are needed, either in scholarship amounts or eligibility criteria.
Tighter Rules for Failing Schools
As many as 12 of the state’s 239 school districts could be labeled as “academically distressed” under new rules under consideration by the state Board of Education. The Board has approved a draft of the new rules and is expected to vote on the final version later this year.
The schools would have two years to improve, although the state could take over the district even sooner if the district failed to show progress.