- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Lottery-funded scholarships for incoming freshmen would be cut in half under a proposal to overhaul the program’s requirements advanced by an Arkansas legislative panel Wednesday.

The Senate Education Committee endorsed the changes, which supporters say is needed because of the lottery’s dwindling revenue. The bill could go before the Senate as early as Thursday.

About 32,000 students are currently receiving scholarships through the lottery program, which voters approved in 2008.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jimmy Hickey said it would help save money and address the number of students who aren’t retaining the scholarship after their freshman year. About 40 percent of freshmen who receive the scholarship don’t retain it for their sophomore year, according to the Department of Higher Education.

“Everybody understands the financial situation and probably understands the need if we can change the way the scholarships are at least given so those students perform in the first year of college, not only will that help with our deficit spending but it may create an atmosphere where those students have an impetus to continue to try to achieve,” the Republican from Texarkana said.

Hickey estimated his legislation would save the scholarship program about $10.5 million a year.

Hickey’s bill would lower the scholarship amount incoming freshmen receive from $2,000 to $1,000 and increase the amount students receive in the second year from $3,000 to $4,000. The amounts received in the following years - $4,000 for juniors and $5,000 for seniors - would remain the same.

The proposal also eliminates the minimum 2.5 grade point average students could use to qualify for the scholarship, instead requiring them to score at least 19 on the ACT. Students can currently qualify using the GPA or ACT requirement.

That change faces resistance from advocacy groups and some lawmakers who say relying solely on standardized testing would hurt low-income and minority students.

“We will end up with the students most in need subsidizing those who are least in need,” said Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, who said she planned to vote against Hickey’s proposal.

It’s the latest effort to overhaul the lottery six years after it launched. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week signed into law another bill by Hickey abolishing the independent commission running the lottery, putting the games directly under his control.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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