Solvency was again the focus in Senate Education today, this time the solvency of the lottery scholarship fund, which is a major concern of our students. Two bills were considered that approach solvency from different directions.

SB 451, sponsored by Sen. Bill Payne (R-Albuquerque), features a number of changes to lottery eligibility, that include raising high school GPA to 2.75, a minimum 21 on the ACT or 1550 on the SAT, and paying for eight semesters over 6 years. But if a student fails to graduate in six years, he or she would have to pay back the first two semesters of funding. "We should be subsidizing people to graduate, not subsidizing them to take a shot at it," Payne said.

Committee members voiced a number of concerns with the bill, saying it was a scholarship meant for access that would be put out of reach for those not testing well. They also saw no hard data to show the action would help solvency.

Sen. Payne said his main concern is solvency not policy change so he welcomes ideas to help achieve that. SEC will hold over this bill pending those ideas coming to the fore from the HED or higher ed institutions.

Meanwhile, a committee sub for SB 392, sponsored by Sen. Michael Sanchez (D-Belen), seeks to inject more money into the fund for the short term, giving lawmakers and educators time to craft a fact-based solution for lottery solvency. The stop-gap funds would come from tobacco settlement monies, from lottery withholding, and if needed, from general fund reserves.

The committee sent this substitute bill on to Senate Finance with a do pass.

There are several other lottery bills in the hopper, including HB 586 that was introduced yesterday. UNM students developed this bill, which features a needs-based tier funding system and higher eligibility thresholds.

Susan McKinsey, Office of Government and Community Relations