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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lawmakers need balanced solution for Lottery Scholarship

As students hunker down for another semester, the Legislative Lottery Scholarship is in a precarious state. Understandably, the uncertainty has left many students wondering how this will affect their futures.

First, I want to assure students that protecting the scholarship is a top priority for my administration. For nearly two decades the scholarship has helped 82,000 New Mexicans earn affordable college degrees. Not only is the scholarship important to our state’s economy, but it serves as a springboard for New Mexicans to pursue their dreams.

That’s why it’s so important that our lawmakers work together in a bipartisan manner during this 30-day legislative session to find a solution. While it will not be an easy task, I am hopeful that elected representatives in Santa Fe will step forward and undertake the necessary measures to maintain the scholarship.

As of today, the Legislative Lottery Scholarship faces an unsustainable future. For the spring semester alone, the scholarship fund is short $16 million. We’ve reached this critical juncture for a number of reasons, including tuition increases, a growing number of scholarship recipients, flat revenue from lottery sales and an estimated $5 million in lost tobacco settlement money. This situation demands action from our lawmakers.

To begin with, legislators must find common ground this 30-day session to fully fund the spring semester. I expect that they understand the urgency of this situation and will act swiftly to fund the scholarship. As a potential solution, I’ve conveyed to lawmakers that I believe it’s completely reasonable to cover the shortfall with money from the General Fund.

Unfortunately, should lawmakers fail to find a solution this legislative session, the law requires the state to dramatically cut the scholarship for all students. This outcome, however, is completely avoidable — but our legislators must act with clear purpose and great urgency.

Fixing the spring semester shortfall is only the beginning.

Lawmakers must also find a long-term solution to ensure that the scholarship continues to support New Mexico’s students. Some ideas include raising the grade point average to qualify for the scholarship. Others have advocated a needs-based approach.

Whatever it may be, I encourage lawmakers to find a balance that has a minimal effect on students. To help inform lawmakers in their decision making, the secretary of the Higher Education Department has provided them with 32 different solvency scenarios.

We have encouraged legislators to use these scenarios as a guide in fixing the scholarship.

Again, this issue can be solved this 30-day session. In the meantime, I encourage students and their parents to call their respective lawmakers and urge them to protect the Legislative Lottery Scholarship by reforming it in a balanced and responsible fashion.

Finding a solution will require legislators to work across the aisle. But I believe they will see past their differences to solve this critical issue because the future of New Mexico’s students is just too important.

Susana Martinez is the Governor of New Mexico.