SANTA FE - Thanks to a booming surplus, students who have been lobbying to expand funding for the state's lottery scholarship may soon get their wish.
A group of 50 UNM students joined their peers statewide at the Roundhouse during Student Day at the Legislature Monday to lobby for support of using all state lottery revenue to back the Lottery to Success Scholarship.
With demand for Lottery to Success Scholarships outpacing the revenue available to back the program, the group emphasized the importance of fully funding the scholarship.
The scholarship program pays full tuition and is available to New Mexico high school graduates who maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average during their first semester at a state college or university.
"I am on the lottery scholarship, and it has given me financial aid and allowed me to participate in activities outside the classroom," said Jennifer Liu, president of the Associated Students of UNM. "I would not have been able to do as much at UNM had I not had my tuition paid for because I would have had to focus on finding a way to pay for my education. Now I can focus on ways of giving back the University community."
The scholarship program is projected to have a $9.1 million shortfall by 2003 without additional money, which could mean restricting student eligibility or reducing the amount of the scholarships. The shortfall could grow to $20.6 million in 2004.
According to the Commission on Higher Education, which distributes the lottery scholarship, about 12,000 students will be awarded scholarships this school year - up from 10,000 students in the 1999-2000 school year - at a cost of $19.4 million.
The commission expects the lottery to generate about $24.6 million this year, which it calls a conservative estimate that will be adjusted later during the year.
Rep. Daniel Silva, D-Albuquerque, spoke about House Bill 22. Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-BelÇn, was the author of original lottery scholarship legislation enacted in 1997 and is backing Senate Bill 59. He could not get away from committee meetings to attend the students' press conference. Both measures, if passed, would allocate 100 percent of lottery revenues to the scholarship.
"We've seen what this program has done for our kids throughout the state, we know the universities and colleges like it, we know they're doing great things for the state of New Mexico," Silva said.
The House of Representatives approved Silva's bill earlier this session, but the Senate has not acted on it yet.
Gov. Gary Johnson alluded to his support of fully funding the scholarship program during his State of the State address if the Legislature used some of its $503 million surplus to fund K-12 capitol outlay projects .
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox
"After we have bolstered our reserves, let's spend the remainder of this windfall, which is non-recurring, on building schools," Johnson said. "Let's address our critical capital needs for education instead of squandering it. It is a conservative approach that will ensure fiscal well-being for years to come. Further, this approach will allow this Legislature to dedicate 100 percent of lottery proceeds to scholarships for New Mexico students, if it so chooses."
Bruce Hamlett, executive director of the Commission on Higher Education, thanked the students for coming to the capitol and supporting lottery scholarship legislation.
"With the help of Senators Sanchez and Silva, we will be able to ensure funding for the scholarship for the next nine years," he said. "That means we can tell New Mexico high school students that if they work hard and stay in school, they'll be guaranteed a full-tuition scholarship when they graduate."
UNM President Bill Gordon said following the press conference that the scholarship program has had a significant impact on the University.
"One of the things we have begun to see is that the students who actually make it on to the scholarship are retained at a higher rate," he said. "They're taking full loads. Most of the students will graduate in a timely way and that gives some real coherence to their educational experience. So we see a number of positives beyond the enormous positive of providing much greater access."