State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis wants to use some of the surplus funds from the Tennessee lottery to pay for more Tennesseans to resume and complete college.
Kyle said last week he already has had preliminary discussions about the plan with the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, with more to come.
“That money isn’t doing anybody any good, ladies and gentlemen,” Kyle said Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Frayser Exchange Club, citing an operational reserve lottery fund of more than $400 million. “We do good things with the lottery, but we can do more for other folks.”
Haslam announced the day before Kyle’s remarks that he is intensifying his “Drive to 55” campaign, which aims to raise the percentage of Tennesseans who obtain degrees or other higher education certification to at least 55 percent by 2025. Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans complete their college education in state with a degree or certificate.
“Studies show that by the year 2025 that number needs to be at least 55 percent for us to keep up with job demand,” Haslam said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Haslam’s administration earlier this year created a $47 million endowment from operational reserve funds of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. to fund $2 million a year in “last dollar” scholarships. Those scholarships fill the gap between student financial aid and the final bill for college tuition, books and other items.
The corporation is the state’s nonprofit corporation that is responsible for the administration of federal and state college loan and assistance programs, including the HOPE scholarships funded by state lottery proceeds.
Haslam is expected to travel across the state this month to make the case in general for the higher education goal.
Kyle said he is not arguing against some kind of reserve to guarantee the state does not “break trust” with those who qualify for the scholarships.
“But I think in the long run we have been overly cautious in trying to set that standard. and it’s now time to review that,” he added. “It’s also, in my mind, not so much necessary that we should review the candidates and who gets that scholarship as the other folks who should get that scholarship – that person who didn’t go to school right out of high school who wants to get a step back. We’ve got to build the lives of adults. … Everybody needs to drink from the well.”
Kyle fielded questions about why some of the lottery surplus couldn’t be used to expand pre-kindergarten programs. It could, but there are provisions in the Tennessee Constitution, he said, that require the funds to be used first for more lottery scholarships and then for other uses.
The Memphis Democrat also cited political realities while saying he supports access to pre-kindergarten programs for all 4-year-olds in Shelby County.
“But that is not the majority view in Nashville. And that, quite frankly, is not the majority view of the Shelby County delegation,” Kyle said. “We have many members of the Shelby delegation who do not believe in pre-K, do not believe it makes a difference in kids’ lives.”