A bill that restricts eligibility for the HOPE scholarship is working its way through the Tennessee General Assembly.
Currently, incoming students need to maintain a 3.0 high school grade point average or have a minimum ACT score of 21 to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship. If the bill passes, students would have to satisfy both of these requirements in order to be eligible for HOPE.
“In 2007, 2008 we discovered we were spending more than we were taking in,” Sen. Dolores Gresham, Senate Education Committee chairman, said. “We watched it and discovered this trend continued year after year.”
According to a study done by the Senate Lottery Stabilization Task Force, middle-income and African American students would be disproportionately affected. African American students could see an 18 percent drop in eligibility or decrease in the amount awarded.
Low income families that make $36,000 or less a year would see a 22 percent decrease, and middle-income families that make $36,000 to $72,000 a year would see a 35 percent decrease according to the study.
Despite the potential impacts and current opposition, Gresham said she stands by the controversial bill.
“We have to get away from spending more than we are taking in, because we do not want this program to ever go in the hole,” Gresham said.
Adriane King, Tech’s assistant director of Financial Aid, points out that if the bill is passed it will have a direct impact on Tech.
“I think when you do the math, it’s about 10 percent will be affected here at Tech,” King says. “That’s roughly 500 students.”
State law already requires at least $50 million remain in the reserve at all times to prevent HOPE from costing the state money.
“Last year I think there was a problem because the lottery was not generating much revenue and we neared that $50 million mark,” King said. “This year there doesn’t seem to be that problem at all.”
A report from state lottery officials shows the lottery has set record gross sales over the last few months. Gresham says that is still not enough.
“This $10 million improvement does not cover the entire deficit,” Gresham said. “If they could maintain that kind of success we would not need these new changes. If the Lottery Corporation could sustain that kind of success we would repeal it in 2015.”
Gresham recently introduced an amendment that would have the bill repealed if The Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation maintains its current success.
If passed, the new HOPE eligibility requirements would go into effect in 2015.