Sunday, July 15, 2012

Linda B. Blackford: Lawmakers divert Money to other areas, so pot empties faster as demand grows

Lawmakers divert Money to other areas, so pot empties faster as demand grows
By Linda B. Blackford
Lexington Herald-Leader

Jayme Hopewell has been a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College since 2010, trying to get an arts and science associate degree at the same time she works and raises her son on her own.

In late February, she filled out her annual application for a grant from Kentucky's College Assistance Program, or CAP, which helps low-income Kentuckians pay for college. She was out of luck.

The state began accepting applications for the program Jan. 1. By Feb. 7, the fund's $60 million had been doled out. It's not yet clear how many students were turned down, but 80,724 were denied in 2011.

"It was hard for me because I depend on financial aid," Hopewell said. "I do think people who intend to go to school should be able to get some help."

She later won a scholarship that allowed her to return to school, but thousands of other Kentucky students aren't that fortunate.

The same thing happens every year, for several reasons:

■ The General Assembly routinely raids funds from the Kentucky Lottery that are supposed to be used for student financial aid. Kentuckians approved the lottery in 1989 on the understanding that 100 percent of its proceeds would go to education. Instead, legislators suspend the law that directs lottery money to education and use it for other programs — to the tune of $90 million since 2006.

In addition, funding for financial aid is based on estimates of lottery proceeds rather than actual lottery sales. Since 2006, the lottery has produced $78 million more than was estimated, but the extra money went into the state's General Fund budget instead of paying for financial aid.

■ The merit-based Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, or KEES, earned by every high school student with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, receives funding priority over need-based grants.

■ With a sickly economy, experts say more and more Kentuckians are realizing they need college degrees. That means more students are competing for the same pot of financial aid, all while tuition rates continue to climb.

The students penalized most by the lack of need-based aid are often those at community colleges. Although institutions tell students to apply early for need-based aid, experts say community college students often lose out because they might not decide to go to school until the last minute based on factors such as employment and family.

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