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Higher Ed Advocates: Stop Swiping Lottery Dollars from Scholarships

Kentucky lawmakers urged to stop using lottery funds earmarked for need-based college scholarships to plug holes in the state's general fund. (KCTCS)
Kentucky lawmakers urged to stop using lottery funds earmarked for need-based college scholarships to plug holes in the state's general fund. (KCTCS)
February 11, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. – As Kentucky lawmakers begin to put together another two-year budget for the state, higher-education advocates want them to stop what the advocates say is a troubling trend – taking state lottery funds away from need-based scholarships.

For years, lawmakers have swept lottery profits earmarked by law for financial aid into the state's general fund.

Ashley Spalding, a research and policy associate with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says the problem is causing the state to miss out on an important investment.

"Financial issues are really a key reason that students might not enroll and certainly that they wouldn't finish their degree – that they might have to leave college in order to work," she states.

Spalding says since 2009 the amount of lottery profits taken from scholarships designed to help low-income students has steadily increased – reaching $34 million this year.

Under state law, after $3 million is given to literacy programs, 55 percent of the remaining lottery profits are supposed to pay for need-based financial aid and the other 45 percent for merit-based scholarships.

Eliza Jane Schaeffer, a senior at Henry Clay High School, is heading to college next fall. She says pulling money from need-based scholarships creates an inequity.

"I will not qualify for need-based aid, but I think it's unfair that I might have more options than some of my peers who have similar ambitions," she states.

Schaeffer is one of 80 middle school through college students on the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence Student Voice Team.

That student group is part of the public outcry over lawmakers raiding lottery funds to plug holes in the state budget – a move Spalding says amplifies the problem.

"Every year, thousands of students are turned away from these scholarships,” she stresses. “In 2015, more than 62,000 students who were eligible for need-based financial aid didn't receive it due to a lack of funds."

Spalding says if need-based scholarships had gotten all of their lottery money, another 15,000 students would have received help.

While Gov. Matt Bevin wants all of the lottery money to go to education, he has added another wrinkle to the debate, by proposing that some of the money go to workforce development scholarships.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY