Barrett: Lottery scholarship spat reveals disregard for stewardship

Barrett: Lottery scholarship spat reveals disregard for stewardship

March 11th, 2012 by Steve Barrett in Opinion Columns

If demonstrated, multimillion-dollar waste isn't cause to rethink a government program, what is?

Tennessee is squandering lottery revenue on scholarships that many students lose by the end of their first year of college.

How many? Well, the overwhelming majority of UTC freshmen get the scholarships - and then half lose eligibility for academic reasons. The rate varies somewhat at colleges around the state, but you can see the problem - a problem compounded by the fact that students who lose their scholarships face a significant chance of dropping out.

Tennessee could slash that waste by requiring students to earn both a minimum 3.0 grade point average in high school and a minimum 21 on the ACT before they are eligible for the $4,000 per year that the scholarship furnishes to students bound for four-year colleges. At present, students who reach either of those benchmarks get the money - which has proved colossally ill advised. For instance, of students who receive lottery scholarships for four-year schools based strictly on their ACT scores, only 20 percent get good enough grades to remain eligible beyond their freshman year. The rest lose the scholarships, and often leave school. In effect, the state is paying them $4,000 to fritter away a year of their lives.

The technical term for that is "money pit."

But Democrats are urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to short circuit the plan for tighter standards. State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, says restricting the scholarships would send the "wrong message."

Which message would that be? That money doesn't grow on kudzu vines and that high schoolers need to put some skin in the game by working hard if they expect the state to underwrite a chunk of their college education?

More irritating still is the notion that raising standards isn't necessary because lottery revenue is doing better these days.

"It is shortsighted and a mistake to cut lottery scholarships at a time when revenues are increasing and we have no idea whether there's going to be any future problem," Berke said.

That theory will come as a surprise to those who have labored under the belief that uncertainty about future finances is a reason for more cautious spending, not for maintaining the status quo.

And there's a fundamental stewardship principle at stake. Even if the lottery brought in a guaranteed $100 billion a year, that wouldn't be an excuse for government to keep showering "scholarships" on students whose academic record suggests they will quickly lose eligibility and the spending will have been for naught.

You don't throw good money after bad just because you can - especially not when it's other people's money.

But he has moxie!

If you don't think Mitt Romney will be in deep puddin' in November if he's the Republican nominee, you're not paying attention.

He has yet to win a Southern state - unless you consider Florida politically Southern or you count Virginia, where conservatives Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich weren't even on the ballot.

Toss in Romney's near disasters in his native Michigan and adjacent Ohio - and other states where he couldn't get past 50 percent or where one conservative (Santorum) likely would have won if another conservative (Gingrich) hadn't been on the ballot - and you're looking at going against Obama and his moneyed minions with a candidate who manifestly demoralizes the GOP base.

That will leave Romney scrambling to reach out to independents with his Dukakis-grade charisma and his increasingly touchy assurances that RomneyCare isn't the same thing as ObamaCare.

Yep, that'll do it.

Predictable

The usual suspects condemned Tennessee as some Jim Crow backwater for enacting a law requiring photo ID to vote. Now that Super Tuesday has come and gone with practically nobody being turned away from the polls for lack of ID, the accusers are quiet and most of the news media have conspicuously lost interest.

Now there's something you see every day.