Monday, April 17, 2006

Lottery Scholarships

Today's Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports what was known before the Tennessee lottery was enacted--it's not the poor students that benefit. Unfortunately the Times-Free Press doesn't link to the actual data for independent analysis.

State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, along with other members of the Tennessee General Assembly's Black Caucus, has criticized the lottery scholarship program for not helping enough minority and low-income students.

She said lawmakers knew when they approved the program nearly two years ago that it would cater more to well-off students.

She's exactly correct. She chaired one of the education committees reviewing this legislation. But it's not the program that needs to be amended. The answer lies somewhere between the school districts, the parents and the students working together at finding the right educational options to ensure that each student gets that basic education they've been promised.

I was in many of the education committee hearings, even testified, and can confirm how hard legislators worked to include their own poorly performing students in this opportunity. That's why a "B" average was included in the bill. Many of those committee members knew and expressed their opinion on this very subject. The ACT score bounced around from high of 23 to a low of 19 and finally landed at 21 with the subjective "B" average option as the best chance many of those children would have to obtain this money. It was a shameful fact that many of the children in their districts couldn't make it with just an ACT/SAT score alone. Something had to be done to accommodate them.

The entire lottery scheme was sold as being for the 'best and brightest'. It was never advertised as a hand up for poorly performing or minority students. Lottery opponents routinely pointed out that poor people were more likely to buy lottery tickets and more well off students were the usual beneficiaries of those lottery losings. It should be no surprise to anyone who was half paying attention at the time that the Free-Press analysis is old news.

The only way to fix lack of scholarships for poorer students is for the legislators to go back to their home districts and raise a huge fuss. I would be mortified to sit on any of the state's education committees attempting to steer the public education system for the entire state without being an outspoken advocate for serious changes and accountability in my own home district. They say all politics is local. So let's fix the local problem first.

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