Change in Lottery Scholarships

September 21, 2012

State Capitol Week in Review

From Senator Sue Madison

September 21, 2012

LITTLE ROCK  –  Legislators heard details of a plan that would change how lottery scholarships are distributed, creating a “tiered” system.  Its supporters say it would preserve the long term financial stability of the program.

Currently,  students at a four-year university who are eligible for lottery scholarships get $4,500 a year.  Students at two-year colleges get $2,225 a year.  Legislators agreed that even if a change in lottery scholarships is enacted in the 2013 regular session, students now getting scholarships would continue to receive the same amounts.

The plan would eliminate the difference in scholarship amounts between two-year college students and those in a four-year institution.  Eligible freshmen would get $2,000.  Each year they remain in college they would get an additional $1,000.  Sophomores would get $3,000, juniors would get $4,000 and seniors would get $5,000.

The sponsor of the plan said that the current lottery scholarship program is unsustainable, and if the legislature does nothing now scholarship amounts will have to be reduced in the future.  He acknowledged that there is strong opposition to tighter eligibility requirements, such as raising the minimum grade point averages and standardized test scores required to get a scholarship.  With that opposition in mind, tiered scholarships make sense, he said.

However, the proposal quickly drew opposition from backers of the current system, who said that the legislature should be careful not to make wholesale changes that would deviate radically from the constitutional amendment creating the lottery.  Amendment 87, which set up the Arkansas lottery, was approved in 2008 by a vote of 648,000 to 383,000.

According to legislative researchers, the lottery scholarship program will bring in an estimated $118 million next year.  Under current rules, students will be eligible for almost $140 million worth of scholarships.  But under the tiered plan discussed last week, the program would be under budget next year.  Scholarships valued at $115 million would be awarded, less than the $188 million the program is projected to bring in.

This school year 34,126 scholarships will be awarded, according to the director of the state Higher Education Department.

One criticism of the proposed changes is that by lowering scholarship amounts for freshmen, fewer students would be encouraged to attend college.  On the other hand, supporters of the new plan say that by gradually increasing scholarship amounts each year, college students would be encouraged to stay in school and get a degree.

A goal of Arkansas policy makers is to graduate students with degrees, because traditionally the state has a low college retention rate – 20 percent for students at two-year colleges and 38 percent for those at four-year universities.

The governor said he would keep an open mind about the proposal to create tiered scholarships because something has to be done to keep the lottery scholarship program under budget.  The governor echoed the comments of legislative leaders who are pushing the tiered scholarship plan when they said that the lottery program must keep faith with college students.  When students earn a scholarship of a certain amount, they must be assured of receiving that amount throughout their college career without fear the amount will be reduced.

The tiered scholarship plan was proposed at a meeting of the Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee by its Senate chairman.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please call me at 479-442-2997.

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The Night Bus to the Border

September 2, 2012

Fire on the Mountain

This article was originally published in the Observer May 27, 2010

 The Night Bus to the Border

By Steven Worden

Next time you feel too stale, too dragged by the same ol’, same ol’, head on up to Fayetteville and out on Wedington where for a couple of hundred, you can buy a roundtrip Jefferson Lines’ ticket to Brownsville, Texas.  Hop on the southbound around noon and you will be in Shreveport, gazing at the lurid red lights of the Boomtown high-rise casino by 7:30 that evening.  A scant five or so hours later at 1:00 a.m. you will be admiring the death-like downtown of Houston.  By 6:30 in the morning, the sparkling lights of Corpus Christi refineries will be appearing off to your left.  By 10:00 a.m., you will be stepping out into the morning heat and humidity of Brownsville, a homeless man curled up by a palm tree off to your right.  Just up the street:  the International Bridge to Matamoros, Mexico.

Although a mere twenty-one hours in duration, a night run to Brownsville opens up a whole new reality to the middle-class guy wearied of a white, skinny, affluent, non-tattooed, non-mentally-disordered, non-addicted world.  If you yearn for the sound of a young man screaming m-fing words into a cell phone and in your ear right behind you, the sight of three young white guys trading pills across the aisle in front of you, (“I had to leave Rogers, you know, too many cops and not enough people!  Not enough people to keep the cops busy, so they were always after me!”) giggling that eerie high druggy nervous snigger– then, my friend, you need a night bus ride!

Mostly though, just people hunkered down, talking in the dark, coming from someplace in a hurry to get cheaply to another place, (“I’m going to Lufkin.  My ex-wife is dying from cancer and I’m going to take care of her and then take my daughters back to Mississippi.”)  You saw one heavy-set, grey-haired pony-tailed guy in unbelievably stained loose sweat pants sitting on a curb in Texarkana and now he lurches down the aisle, trailing stale urine odor and falls into a seat right across the aisle from you.

An overweight young man and woman both sporting crudely scrawled jail tattoos asked the manager of the snack bar in Texarkana the cost of a cup of coffee.  When they were told that it is a buck and a half, they walk away only to return to ask the cost of a cup of hot water:  fifty-five cents.  They again retreat.  A young woman watching this yelled after them, “Hey, I got fifty-five cents that you can have.”  She ran after them to hand it to them.

Slowly as it begins to grow light in Refugio, Texas, it begins to dawn on you, too:  no Goldman Sachs hedge fund managers, here, no Stephan Schwartzmans  (’09:  $702 million take home), no Alex Rodriguezes, no “Black Mamba” Kobe Bryants,  with their hundred million contracts, here.  Only the poor, the humble, the suffering, the sorrowing, the hungry, the merciful, and the peacemakers:  hey, this must be the Beatitudes bus!

The “shock within the imagination,” as Stanley Haurwas described the effect of the Beatitudes, hits home.  You look around anew as the single mothers, the broke, the sorrowing, and the strung-out stumble out into the bright Brownsville morning.  You sense what Robert Barron meant that transformation of the soul is not in the behaving or the believing, but is in the transformation of the seeing, and there’s nothing like a night run to the border to help you see the world a little more clearly.

Steven Worden,PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Arkansas. He has been a regular contributor to the West Fork Zephyr and Washington County Observer since 2009.