Plan would make it easier for home-schoolers in Tennessee to win Hope Scholarship than students in public, private schools
Source: The Commercial appeal
By: Richard Locker
March 5, 2012
A Republican plan to alter the lottery-funded Hope Scholarship program would make it easier for home-schooled students to qualify for the $4,000-per-year grant than students in traditional public and private schools.
As originally filed, a controversial bill sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, would toughen eligibility standards for both traditional and home-schooled students, but a Gresham amendment under consideration by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would relax the bill's original provisions for home-schoolers.
Meanwhile, House and Senate Democratic leaders on Monday afternoon called on Gov. Bill Haslam to help them block the overall bill, saying that it would deny full Hope Scholarships to 5,257 students in the 2015-16 school year, when the bill would go into effect if passed.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission predicted about 6,600 would be affected in the second year, and that about 22 percent of students who would qualify under current standards would not be eligible if the change is approved.
"We are here today to ask Gov. Haslam to help us stop the cutting of 5,257 lottery scholarships," said Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, in a late-afternoon news conference. "Our lottery reserve is over $300 million. It could sustain scholarships for at least 20 years. Republicans want to take that money and stuff it into a mattress."
If the bill and its new amendment ultimately become law, public and private school students would have to achieve a minimum 3.0 high school grade-point average and a minimum composite score of 21 on the ACT college entrance test.
Currently, those students qualify with either standard and don't have to achieve both. Under the new bill, public and private school students who achieve one standard but not both would receive only $2,000 per year.
But the amendment would allow home-schoolers to qualify with only the ACT composite as long as they score at least 21 on two of the test's four components. The original bill would require a minimum 23 ACT score for home-schoolers, to compensate for the toughening eligibility requirements for traditional students. Grade-point averages have never been a Hope Scholarship qualifying option for home-schoolers because their parents track and report their students' grades.
The amendment prompted critics of the entire bill to cry foul when it was reviewed in the Senate Education Committee last month.
"It's unfair to treat kids differently based on where they go to school. That's a simple principle," said state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga.
Meanwhile, the House Monday night approved and sent to the Senate a bill that will double the amount of money required to be maintained in the lottery scholarship program's reserve fund from the current $50 million to $100 million. The sponsor, Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, said the higher level is needed because the program is spending more money than when it was first established.
House Minority Leader Mike Turner, D-Nashville, said the reserve fund is "extremely healthy and I'm concerned we're getting to the point where we're going to cut kids off scholarships unnecessarily."
The current scholarship program costs about $300 million a year, about $10 million more per year than the lottery is currently generating for the program.