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VOL. 122 | NO. 247 | Friday, December 28, 2007

Cohen Says Raise Lottery Scholarship Size, Don't Lower Standards

By ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The congressman who as a state lawmaker spearheaded the creation of the lottery-funded scholarship program says the General Assembly should focus on increasing the size of the grants instead of lowering qualifying standards.

Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, said Thursday that he supports lowering the grade point averages needed to retain the scholarships once in college. But he said lowering the high school GPA needed to get a HOPE scholarship would be setting students up for failure.

"You're not going to increase people keeping the scholarship by giving scholarships to people who statistics show aren't going to be successful in college," he said.

But Cohen said he could support lowering the GPA requirements college students need to keep the scholarship. He proposed reducing the GPA from 2.75 to 2.5 for the first year of college, and from 3.0 to 2.75 after that.

"More students will keep that scholarship and more will get out with less debt," he said.

High schoolers need either a 3.0 grade point average or a 21 on the ACT college admissions test to qualify for the $4,000 scholarship.

Cohen said that income limits to qualify for an extra $1,500 Aspire Award should be raised to help more middle-class families. Students from families that earn less than $36,000 a year can receive the Aspire Award on top of the HOPE scholarship.

Cohen said that the income limit should be increased to $60,000 or more, "so you get more middle class people who get that full boost."

He also recommended that standards for the existing General Assembly Merit Scholarship could be dialed down from the current requirement of a 3.75 GPA and a 29 ACT score to capture more high-performing students. The General Assembly grants are a $1,000 supplement to the HOPE scholarship.

Cohen said he also opposes a proposal championed by House Republicans to distribute lottery reserves to school districts for construction projects.

"That's just political," he said. "It is just politicians handing out pork."

Cohen said it is ironic that the proposal is supported by the same Republicans who vehemently opposed the legislation that put the constitutional amendment creating the lottery on the ballot.

"I was the pig slayer," Cohen said. "Now they all want to be the butcher who hands out the pork."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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