Lottery Funds, Politics in Play in Tennessee, Georgia

By Sean Cavanagh — October 05, 2010 1 min read
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Mike McWherter, who’s running for governor in Tennessee, said recently that the state should look at scaling back the amount of money it awards through its lottery-funded scholarship program, to ensure that it can serve the greatest number of students possible.

Lottery-funded college programs have proved enormously popular in a number of states, most notably Georgia, which created an early blueprint for those models with the HOPE Scholarship. So McWherter’s position might not seem like the wisest one to take, politically speaking. But the Democrat said the state needs to be focused on preserving the program’s long-term financial stability, which has emerged as a concern with lottery programs around the country, as EdWeek has reported. In Tennessee, concerns about rising college enrollments have led some to question whether the state might have to dig into its reserves to pay for the program.

The goal should be to “make scholarship money available to as broad a spectrum of kids as the fund will possibly allow,” McWherter told the Associated Press. “If funding is going to be an issue, then yes, I think you would have to scale that back to ensure that we maintain solvency in the fund...I don’t mind if they adjust this on a yearly basis even.”

McWherter’s opponent, Republican Bill Haslam, sounded reluctant about making changes to the program. But he also warned that Tennessee officials have “started to siphon money off” the fund to pay for other state programs. The most important thing, he told AP, is that the promises made to enrollees in the program are kept.

Lottery scholarship programs can be volatile political issues, even decades after the fact.

Republicans in Georgia recently accused the Democratic candidate for governor, Roy Barnes, of opposing the Hope Scholarship—in 1990. Barnes was running in a Democratic gubernatorial primary back then that included Zell Miller and Andrew Young, a contest he lost. PolitiFact Georgia checked out the charge, and concluded that Barnes did, in fact, oppose the lottery program during that time period, but not, specifically, the scholarship program it eventually spawned.

PolitiFact’s final judgment about the Barnes-against-HOPE claim? “Barely True.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.