Lottery scholarship plan moves forward

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The House overwhelmingly passed a plan to shore up the lottery scholarship fund on Friday, a plan that is almost certain to make a lot of New Mexico college students unhappy.

The bill would likely require every student to take a hit, and as things stand, it wouldn’t cover the full cost of tuition anymore.

With higher tuition and more students, the lottery scholarship can’t keep up.

“It’s been a wonderful thing we could cover 100 percent of tuition, but unfortunately, tuition growth has outstripped growth in lottery ticket sales,” said Republican Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho.

Harper’s bill to fix the program passed through the House on Friday 65 to 1. It would use the money available in the lottery fund, and divide it by the number of eligible students to determine the amount of the scholarship.

For example, if the fund only has 80 percent of what it needs to cover full tuition costs, each eligible student would only have 80 percent of their tuition covered.

“It’s going to be difficult for poorer families to come up with the extra money. You know, a couple thousand dollars is a lot of money to a lot of New Mexican families that are living from paycheck to paycheck,” said Ralph Arellanes, New Mexico Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.

Arellanes said the scholarship money distribution should depend on financial need, adding even with a partial tuition payout, not everyone would have the same opportunities to attend college.

“Unfortunately, we can’t do that anymore. The fund is bankrupt, but I think this will be a good thing for our students who now have a little skin in the game,” explained Rep. Harper.

Out of nearly a dozen ideas, many people said Rep. Harper’s bill is the most fair and said requiring students to make up the tuition difference could be another incentive to get a degree on time.

Gov. Susana Martinez hasn’t said whether she’d sign the bill if it gets through the Senate.

On Friday night, KRQE News 13 received a statement from a spokesman for the Higher Education Department stating, “Governor Susana Martinez appreciates that lawmakers are putting a strong emphasis on trying to protect the Lottery Scholarship, but she believes we shouldn’t close the door on other reforms that take a balanced approach to the problem – including changes based on merit or financial need.”

The bill also calls for reducing the number of semesters students can be on the scholarship, from eight to seven.

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