Why grant programs to help low-income students pay for college is being short-changed

03/10/2014 06:22 PM

The message Carl Rollins delivered last month to his former colleagues in the state House was that lawmakers need to reverse the recent trend of skimming lottery money off the funds that are supposed to help low-income Kentuckians afford college.

“We’re taking money away from the students who need it most,” Rollins, now the director of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, told the House budget subcommittee on higher education on Feb. 20.

Nearly all of the more than $200 million in lottery proceeds the state gets is supposed to go to help Kentuckians pay for college: 55 percent to the KEES scholarships awarded to all students based on grades and performance and 45 percent for two programs aimed at helping low-income students. The Kentucky College Access Program provides $1,900 grants for students based on financial need to help them attend in-state schools. The Kentucky Tuition Grant funds go to students who qualify and are attending private schools.

But starting in the 2009-10 budget cycle, Gov. Steve Beshear and lawmakers have signed off on spending bills that scooped some of that money out of those need-based grant programs to plug budget holes in other programs.

KEES was unaffected. The Herald-Leader’s Linda Blackford expanded on that in an article four days after Rollins testified. Blackford reported that 46 percent of students who receive merit-based aid, mostly through KEES, come from families who make $75,000.

Rollins was in the Pure Politics studio on Monday, the day before he’s scheduled to make his case in front of the Senate’s budget committee. He said he plans to call for restoring funds to the need-based programs and said university presidents should support that too because, ultimately, those grant dollars students receive are paid to them.

Here’s the Pure Politics segment on the issue:

The House is expected to approve its version of the 2015-16 budget on Wednesday. It then goes to the Senate for changes.

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