A proposal to change lottery scholarship amounts drew a lot of flak yesterday.
Senator Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) proposed a graduated scholarship model to make up for a shortfall in funding.
Under his proposal, college freshman would be eligible for $2,000 in lottery scholarship money; sophomores, $3,000; juniors, $4,000; and seniors, $5,000.
The proposal is driven by insufficient funding from the Arkansas Lottery coupled with the fact that 40% of college freshman who received lottery scholarships were unable to keep those scholarships the following year—they either left college or were unable to meet the minimum GPA and other requirements to keep their scholarships. Sen. Key’s proposal would reward students who meet those requirements and stay in school.
The proposal is drawing intense flak from people like former Lt. Governor Bill Halter, however, who spearheaded the effort to institute the lottery. According to an AP story, Halter told a legislative committee yesterday, “This is in no way what was described to Arkansas voters.”
Now, that is true: The Arkansas Lottery is nothing like what the people of Arkansas were promised. For instance…
- When he campaigned for the lottery, Lt. Governor Halter practically promised every student—traditional and non-traditional alike—a free ride to college on the lottery’s dime.
- In 2007, when he tried to get the legislature to authorize the lottery, he told lawmakers the lottery would bring in $200 million in scholarship funding every year—even though an independent government agency reported during that time that Halter’s number was inflated, and that the lottery would probably bring in more like $40-$60 million for scholarships per year.
- When he pitched the idea to the people of Arkansas a year later, in 2008, Halter promised $100+ million a year in scholarship money from the lottery. We have no idea where he got either estimate or why he cut his figures in half.
- When lawmakers passed the enabling legislation to set up the Lottery, they promised one that was transparent and “world-class.” If you read the headlines cataloging the Arkansas Lottery’s scandals and mismanagements, it’s obvious our lottery has been anything but world-class and transparent.
- The Arkansas Lottery spends an exorbitant amount of money on salaries for high-level officials. The first Lottery Director was paid well over $300,000 per year, and the new director earns $165,000 per year.
- Even if it had provided the promised windfall for scholarships, there is simply no way the lottery could have given everyone a free ride to college, mathematically speaking.
- The Arkansas Lottery Commission has compounded this problem by allocating one of the lowest percentages in the nation for the lottery’s intended purpose: Only 20-21% of the lottery’s gross revenue goes to scholarships.
- Arkansas’ poorest counties have spent the most, per capita, on lottery tickets and reaped the least in rewards.
- To make up for revenue shortfalls, our Lottery Commission has rolled out new lottery games at a pace unprecedented in America.
- The Arkansas Legislature has already reduced lottery scholarship amounts once to keep the program afloat.
With all of this in mind, it’s plain to see that Senator Key is not trying to sabotage the Arkansas Lottery; the Lottery itself has already done that. He is trying to salvage what’s left of a broken system that never could have lived up to the promises Lt. Governor Halter and others made four years ago.
According to the Associated Press, Halter told legislators they should “take a successful program and amplify it, not fundamentally change it.” I don’t know what “successful program” Halter is talking about, but it isn’t our state’s lottery.