When then-Lt. Governor Bill Halter championed the lottery as a way to fund Arkansas education, I thought it was a great idea. Except… I wanted the funds to go toward the education of K-12 students, not “C average” college students.
Arkansas consolidated many schools about 9 years ago and now we have students being bused for an hour to begin their school day. Paron children have no school above elementary and now belong in the Bryant School District. The State-mandated abandonment of upper grades and consolidation of those grades into Bryant occurred in 2006. (Click to read the historical account, paragraphs 7 & 8.) Ninth graders riding the bus to Bryant High School get on the bus at 6 a.m. and arrive home in the afternoon at 5 p.m. (Here’s the transportation schedule). That’s not just something that happened once and won’t happen again. Right now, Pulaski County Special School District is considering closing two schools in order to save money – $1 million for one school closing.
Now let’s go back to the type of funding that the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery (ASL) is providing for the tuition of college students. The dollar amounts have changed a few times since the program began in the Fall of 2010. The rest of this paragraph is numbers, so skip to the next one if you’re lazy. For the first year, the was giving $5,000 per year to 4-year degree students and $2,500 per year to 2-year degree students. The next 2 years, the amount was adjusted lower to $4,500 and $2,250. In school year 2013-14, the amount leveled out to just $2,000 per year for incoming students seeking 2- or 4-year degrees, and the amount grows yearly by $1,000, for students who are progressing sufficiently, ending at $5,000 per year for seniors in 4-year degree programs. I’m not going to do all the specific math, but the ASL estimates 133,000 students have received scholarships from their program at this time. You can see the numbers organized by year and county in Figure A and my fuzzy math in Figure B.
It comes to $400 million in the last four years that – had the bill been written differently – could have gone into Arkansas’ public schools, to give students a better education before they get to college, so they can earn their way in, instead of getting a ride. Do we really want to ply students to stay in the state by awarding scholarships for mediocre achievement (again, here are the C-student requirements), or would we rather plug another $100 million per year into making our public schools great and saving the small community schools from certain death?
Let’s average the 2- and 4-year amounts for these years and then we’ll round down to be at a conservative number that might have gone to college tuition.
|Awards between $2,500 & $5,000|
|2010-11||33,440 students||x||$3,750||=||$125,400,000 in scholarships|
|Awards between $2,250 & $4,500|
|2011-12||31,958 students||x||$3,375||=||$107,858,250 in scholarships|
|Awards between $2,250 & $4,500|
|2012-13||32,881 students||x||$3,375||=||$110,973,375 in scholarships|
|Awards between $2,000 & $5,000|
|2013-14||35,212 students||x||$3,500*||=||$123,242,000 in scholarships|
*This number will be lower for those who dropped out and another student began at bottom rate.
Now let’s round down to conservatively put our final number at about $400 million in scholarships handed out to Arkansas college students over the first four years of the program.