Lottery compromise plan draws fire

SANTA FE (KRQE) – Late at night while most New Mexicans were asleep, the New Mexico Senate approved a plan designed to save a lottery scholarship fund that is paying out more than it’s taking in.

SB 347, approved on a 31-11 vote, does a lot of things to both add more funding and increase requirements for students to receive the scholarship.

On the funding side, the bill appropriates $22.5 million this school year and next to shore up the fund. In future years, it diverts about $18.4 million in liquor excise tax money normally sent to the general fund and uses it to pay for scholarships.

Under SB 347, the scholarship would only be offered for seven semesters instead of eight semesters and students at four-year universities would need to take 15 credit hours instead of 12 credit hours a semester to qualify. The bill does not raise the GPA required to maintain the lottery scholarship as other proposals had looked at.

Students who currently in at least their fourth semester are exempted from the changes.

“All in all this is a compromise bill, it puts us on the path to solvency,” said Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque.

The most controversial part of the legislation appears to be the concept of “front-loading”. The bill guarantees full tuition scholarships for freshman and sophomore students, but then takes whatever’s left in the fund and divides it up among junior and senior students. That means upperclassmen would likely see scholarships cut.

“I believe students are most at risk early in their career, as they begin school,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs.

But student groups and some lawmakers are speaking out about the idea. A joint statement from the student body presidents of UNM and NMSU says they’re opposed to the front-loading concept and don’t believe SB 347 received close enough scrutiny.

ASNMSU president David Maestas says “front-loading” penalizes more serious students in favor of less serious students.

“They use the money from the lottery scholarship fund and many of them drop out in their first or second year and that uses money that could’ve gone to students who were going to stay in college,” Maestas said.

“We’re trying to protect [students] that are going to take it and leave it,” Senate Education Chair John Sapien, D-Corrales said. “The ones that are trying to strive to climb up, I think we hurt with that bill tonight.”

The proposal now heads over to the House for approval.

Last week the House signed off on a plan to take the amount of money in the fund and divide it by the number of students eligible, potentially reducing scholarships across the board, but the Senate hasn’t taken up the idea yet.

The session ends Thursday at noon.

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