Politics & Government

Officials hopeful SC lottery can pay for added college scholarships

S.C. officials are hopeful esnough lottery profits will be available to cover the cost of college scholarships for qualifying high school seniors even though more students now are eligible for the state aid.

“We are working as hard as we can to raise as much revenue as we can in a responsible manner,” Hogan Brown, interim executive director of the S.C. Education Lottery, told an S.C. House budget committee Tuesday.

Hogan likely will say the same Thursday to the joint House-Senate Education Lottery Oversight Committee.

Part of the problem is that, in 2016, the S.C. Department of Education changed the state’s K-12 grading scale to a 10-point scale. That made thousands more high school seniors eligible for the lottery’s Life and Palmetto Fellows scholarships.

Under the change, an “A” now is a grade from 90 to 100 and a “B” is from 80 to 89. Previously, an “A” was a grade of 93 to 100 and a “B” was an 85 to 92.

In the past, the lottery has had to rely on the state’s general fund – to the tune of about $12 million this year – because its profits have not been high enough to cover the cost of all promised scholarships.

The change in the grading scale will cost the state $88 million over four years for added scholarships. If no changes are made to the program — reducing the value of the scholarships or making them academically tougher to get — the added scholarships will cost another $42 million a year thereafter.

Last year, state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, recommended to state senators that they change scholarship qualifications.

While there has been growth in the lottery’s revenue this year, Brown said officials are not sure how sustainable that growth will be.

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg – who put some fault on the Legislature for pushing the change in the grading scale, approved by the State Board of Education – asked Brown whether lawmakers should give the lottery more money for marketing.

“I’m interested in what the lottery proposes to do to help us fix this mess we have gotten ourselves in by lowering the grading scale,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The budget chickens are going to come home to roost over the next two years, and I believe the time for us to have this conversation is now, not when all these kids with lower grades are eligible.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter