The Tennessee lawmaker who led the creation of the state lottery and Hope scholarship program blasted Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to use proceeds to foot the cost of community college.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said Tuesday that Haslam's proposal to make community college free of charge for all rising high school seniors would "raid funds from the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship surplus" to create a program that would discourage enrollment at the state's top universities.
As a state senator, Cohen sponsored the 2002 constitutional amendment that repealed the state's ban on lotteries.
"Over the last 10 years, the Hope Scholarship program that I worked for 20 years as a state senator to create has been an unparalleled success," Cohen said. "But the governor's 'promise' actually cuts funding from high-achieving students beginning four-year degree programs."
Haslam proposed waiving tuition and fees at all Tennessee community colleges and technology centers in his annual State of the State speech Monday night. The program, which the Republican governor called "Tennessee Promise," would cost the state about $34 million a year, an expense that the governor said could be covered by moving about $300 million from the Lottery's $400 million-plus reserve fund to a dedicated endowment.
The plan also calls for reducing Hope scholarships for freshmen and sophomores at Tennessee's four-year universities to $3,000 from the current level of $4,000. Juniors and seniors would see their scholarships rise to $5,000.
Cohen said the governor instead should use the lottery surplus to increase scholarships for all four-year students.
"The Hope scholarship has never fully funded college scholarships, as intended, because it has not kept up with the skyrocketing cost of higher education," he said. "Rather than raiding the scholarship fund's surplus to create a new government program, those funds should be used for what the people of Tennessee voted for."