State Capitol Week in Review
The Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee approved the new salary last week for the new director, Bishop Woosley, who had been chief legal counsel for the lottery. He replaced Ernie Passailaigue, who was the first director of the Arkansas lottery and was instrumental in setting it up after voters approved a lottery scholarship program in 2008.
The lottery director's salary in Arkansas is now 11th highest of the 44 state lotteries in the United States. It had been third highest.
Members of the legislative oversight committee questioned the new director about plans to allow people to buy lottery tickets with bank debit cards. Now, you can only buy them with cash. The director said he would probably present the idea of allowing debit cards to the Lottery Commission.
If the Lottery Commission approves the idea, it would then come before the legislative oversight committee before being considered by the entire legislature in a future session. Of the 44 states that have a lottery, 34 states allow people to buy tickets with debit cards, the director said. Senators on the oversight committee expressed reservations about the idea and said they would study the issue very closely before agreeing to it.
Last year the lottery raised $94.2 million for Academic Challenge scholarships, which help qualifying students at four-year universities and two-year colleges pay tuition.
The Arkansas Lottery Commission Legislative Oversight Committee is made up of 12 members of the General Assembly - six senators and six House members.
The Oversight Committee reviews financial reports from the lottery and recommends scholarship amounts. The committee also indirectly determines how many students qualify for scholarships by setting eligibility requirements.
Currently, a qualifying student at a four-year university receives $4,500 a year. A student at a two-year college receives $2,250. High school graduates must complete the Smart Core curriculum. They must either earn a grade point average of 2.5 on a scale of 4 or score a 19 on the ACT standardized college entrance exam.
Students who graduate before the 2013-2014 school year and do not complete the Smart Core curriculum must have a 2.5 GPA and either score a 19 on the ACT or score proficiently on end-of-course assessments. Home schooled students must score a composite of at least 19 on the ACT.
To renew the scholarship, college students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and complete 27 hours their first year and 30 years in following years. There is a way for part-time students to renew scholarships, even if they enroll for as few as six hours. Their scholarship award is reduced proportionately.
When the school year began last fall, more than 31,000 students received an Academic Challenge scholarship. Since Arkansas voters approved the lottery scholarship program, more than 64,000 students have received an award. They attend publicly supported institutions as well as private colleges and nursing schools.
By a vote of 648,000 to 383,000, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 87 to the constitution to establish the lottery.