Bills offer solutions for keeping lottery scholarship afloat

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan Eastern New Mexico University student Rebeka Henson, who works at the Administration Building information office, said the Lottery Scholarship makes it affordable for her to attend college. Two bills in the state Senate are trying to keep the scholarship program solvent for a longer period of time.

Argen Duncan

State senators are considering ways to keep the Lottery Scholarship program solvent, and Eastern New Mexico University representatives agree it’s important.

The program pays tuition at state-supported New Mexico universities.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Dist. 27, has introduced a bill that would freeze tuition for students on the scholarship throughout their time in college.

“What I’m trying to do is get some stability in the spending of the Lottery Scholarship program,” he said.

Ingle said he will probably amend the bill to specify a small percentage the tuition for those students could be raised.

“We’ll try to gauge that by what the growths in (lottery ticket) sales are,” he said.

Ingle said tuition at most schools has increased 40 percent in the last four years, while lottery ticket sales have dropped in the past 18 months.

Ingle has introduced the bill about six times, but he said universities always defeated it.

“I’m not saying universities don’t deserve to be paid tuition,” Ingle said.

They need tuition, he said, but the increase needs to be controlled.

Sen. William Payne, R-Dist. 20, has introduced a bill that would require students who receive the Lottery Scholarship but don’t graduate to repay the money.

Ingle’s bill has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Payne’s was held over by the Senate Education Committee, where it could be modified.

ENMU President Steven Gamble said keeping the Lottery Scholarship program solvent would probably take elimination of tuition credits. With a tuition credit, the Legislature sets the allocations for universities in such a way that the schools must raise tuition to balance the budgets.

“The lottery is one of the best deals I have seen the state provide for its students,” Gamble said. “I have seen it many times be the difference for students attending college.”

He had no comment on either bill.

ENMU sophomore Rebeka Henson said because of the Lottery Scholarship, she doesn’t have to get loans or a job to pay for school.

“It helps me be able to afford it,” she said.

The elementary education major agreed with Ingle’s bill, saying the state should pay a set price for Lottery Scholarship students’ tuition rather than having it increase. On Payne’s bill, Henson said non-graduating students should have to repay scholarship money if they chose to drop out, but not if they failed to graduate because of factors beyond their control.