Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, explained that he is seeking to gain all of the needed savings from students attending four-year institutions, leaving those attending community colleges unscathed, because university scholarships are more expensive.
That may be true, but it's also true that the future leaders of our state are coming out of those same colleges. It makes no sense to discourage our best and brightest.
The bill passed 47-17 in the House, but has been parked in the Senate Education Committee since then. It should remain there.
While we disagree with White's approach, we understand the need to ensure the solvency of the scholarship fund. An analysis of White's bill by the legislative staff found that expenses for lottery scholarships have increased from $47.2 million in 2010 to $58.2 million last year. Lottery proceeds going into the fund have not kept pace with that level of growth.
Which is what makes other lottery bills introduced this session so puzzling.
The same House that passed White's bill, also gave its approval to measures that would expand scholarships to those who take as many as two years off between high school and college and to tribal colleges. It makes absolutely not sense that the same body would pass one bill to protect the solvency of the fund, and two bills to deplete it.
A bill by Reps. James E. Smith and Timothy Keller takes a better approach. It would increase the eligibility requirements for students to a 2.75 grade point average or above, mandate that students first apply for federal aid, and require students to take a full load of 15 credit hours (not counting remedial courses.)
It would also establish a sliding scale in which students would be rewarded for maintaining a high GPA while in college.
Unfortunately, that bill hasn't made it out of its first committee.
The lottery scholarship has been a blessing to thousands of New Mexico students. But far too many students using the scholarships have entered college unprepared and left without a diploma.
It is certainly possible to make compelling arguments for expanding the scholarship, and to offer individual examples of students who would benefit from such expansion. But at a time of dwindling resources, it makes more sense to raise the bar and target the funds to those students who are better prepared and more likely to achieve their degrees.
The Las Cruces Sun-News, March 13