NM lottery scholarship fund still in danger

Posted at: 10/14/2013 6:28 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Mission: Graduate is launching at a time when a major source of tuition money is in danger of drying up for thousands of New Mexico college students.

The New Mexico Lottery scholarship fund is running out of money fast, and a state task force that was supposed to come up with some solutions came up empty-handed instead.

The scholarships pay tuition for about 14,000 college students right now, and many of them wouldn’t be in school without the help. The task force held its last scheduled meeting last Friday without reaching complete agreement on how to fix the problem. The trouble is that lottery ticket sales are flat, and revenues can’t keep up with ever-increasing college tuition costs.

“UNM is the largest recipient of the lottery,” said UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah, who is working on the Mission: Graduate project with educators and business leaders from the central part of the state. “It’s been filling some of the tuition need but it’s really important that we have it. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very big headwind us to try to achieve this.”

“That part is incredibly important,” agreed Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks. “I think on the other side of this, if you get the private sector along with the public sector, working together – I continue to hear the private sector saying we’re going to step up in this field.”

After the task force’s failure the ball is back in the legislature’s court, but that’s where several different proposals failed to pass in last winter’s session. Lawmakers are divided and undecided too.

Here’s the arithmetic: this year the state will hand out about $67 million worth of lottery scholarships, while the lottery will only rake in about $40 million for the scholarship fund. That’s $27 million dollars' worth of red ink. Possible solutions include reducing the number of eligible students by raising the required grade point average, or requiring 15 credit hours per semester instead of 12. Some lawmakers want to raise taxes, but Gov. Susana Martinez has repeatedly promised to veto any tax increases. The legislature will convene in January for a 30 day session.