Region & State

Official recommends lottery scholarship add more support for low-income students

By ANTOINETTE GRAJEDA | Arkansas Advocate

Legislators considered proposals to add a needs-based component to a lottery-funded scholarship program and create an appeals process for students during the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Lottery Oversight subcommittee meeting Wednesday.

Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education, said that creating a sliding scale for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Program would allow low-income students to receive higher levels of support.

“We have a pretty healthy net proceeds balance that we have to draw from, and with a declining student population in the state, we’ll have more and more money that we can use to support those students who need it the most,” she said. 

After Arkansas voters approved the establishment of lotteries in 2008, lawmakers approved legislation in 2009 to create the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. Since then, the lottery has raised more than $1.2 billion for scholarships, and more than 675,000 college scholarships have been awarded to Arkansans, according to lottery officials.

Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Director Eric Hagler
Arkansas Scholarship Lottery Director Eric Hagler | Photo courtesy of the Department of Finance and Administration

ASL collected $58.5 million in November 2022, compared to $47.1 million in November 2021, according to a report presented by director Eric Hagler at Wednesday’s meeting. Net proceeds were $10.7 million for the month, up from $7.2 million in November 2021.

“You cannot expect that every year and you cannot expect that every month, but we’ll take those every time we can,” he said. 

Hagler said Arkansas benefitted from two sizable jackpots this year, but cautioned those aren’t reliable sources of income because an entire year can pass without a large jackpot.

To that point, Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) questioned how the lottery could support additional low-income students if money gets tight.

“I just don’t want to disadvantage one population over trying to advantage another population,” Hammer said.

Previously drafted legislation addressing Markham’s recommendation contained a clause that the needs-based component of the scholarship would be subject to funds available, she said. The governor has approved identical legislation for the next legislative session that starts in January.   

In addition to her proposal to support more low-income students, Markham recommended creating an appeals committee for scholarship programs that would give her the opportunity to reinstate scholarships for students who became ineligible due to extenuating circumstances. 

“We have a lot of students that miss a deadline or fail to meet an eligibility requirement for extenuating circumstances, and I’m not granted any discretion to hear an appeal,” she said

Although a bill to address this issue was drafted during the last legislative session, Markham said they ran out of time and the legislation didn’t get through. 

Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) advised that if similar legislation is presented next year, it should specifically state what events are considered an extenuating circumstance, such as a car accident or a death in the family, to avoid going through the amendment process.

“If we could do that on the front end just to make sure because that would be a point of contention,” Hickey said. 

Traditional students applying for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship must have an ACT superscore of at least 19, be enrolled in at least 12 hours the first fall semester following high school graduation, and at least 15 hours each semester thereafter to receive funds that semester.

They must complete at least 27 credit hours their first year, and at least 30 hours each year thereafter, with a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA. 

Scholarship recipients are awarded between $1,000 and $5,000 a year. The annual application deadline is July 1.