Tennessee scholarship bill dead for this year

Tennessee scholarship bill dead for this year

May 1st, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

Rep. Michael Harrison, R-Rogersville, presides over a House budget subcommittee in Nashville, on Monday. The sponsor of a bill to make it more difficult for high school students to qualify for lottery scholarships withdrew the measure in the committee. At right is Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - A controversial bill that would have slashed lottery-funded Hope scholarships in half for about 5,000 students appears dead for the year.

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, took the bill off notice Monday in the House Budget Subcommittee, later acknowledging that the Senate-passed bill had no chance of passing the House.

"I think the thought is we don't need to do it right now," Brooks said.

The bill, initiated by the Senate, originally sought a 50 percent reduction in the $4,000 award for students who do not achieve both a 3.0 grade-point average and a 21 score on their ACT college entrance exam. It would have gone into effect in the 2015-16 school year to give students and parents enough notice, proponents said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, argued the move was necessary because the state was dipping into the program's $300 million-plus reserve.

But faced with news that lottery proceeds were exceeding estimates by $10 million so far this year, Gresham made the cuts conditional on that growth being sustained.

When it was announced that this year's lottery proceeds had exceeded last year's growth by $22.4 million, Gresham pegged growth to that figure, drawing heated opposition from Democrats.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, a Finance Committee member, said she believed Brooks "might have had some Republicans who understood that changing those standards ... would have just turned the education [of those students] upside down."

Tennessee Board of Regents Vice Chancellor David Gregory said he still believes the lottery scholarship is running "an operating deficit," but the soaring revenue this year "clouded" the debate.

"I think the legislation about what to do is right," Gregory said. "When to do it, it's not as clear a question."

Brooks told colleagues in subcommittee that the decision should be left up to the House and Senate finance committees in the future and the Legislature's education panels should simply implement policy based on the finance committees' actions.