South Carolina senator: Will try again next year on lottery scholarship changes

Lucas Daprile, The State

Photo by Rob Thompson

South Carolina high school students counting on lottery-funded scholarships to attend college can breathe a sigh of relief — for now.

A lawmaker’s efforts to raise the academic requirements for receiving a LIFE, HOPE or Palmetto Fellows scholarship has stalled in the Senate and likely is dead for this year.

The bill would have increased the grade-point averages and standardized-test scores required to receive scholarships. It was meant to offset the increase in students who are eligible for the scholarships — and, in turn, increased cost — after the state lowered the requirements for receiving an “A” or “B.” The requirements were changed to make South Carolina students competitive with other states.
“If it isn’t dead, it’s on life support, “said the bill’s only sponsor, Sen. Greg Hembree. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable work we can get done on it this year, which is what I intend to do.”

By that, Hembree said he will bring the bill up in committees throughout this year’s session, which ends in May, and try to have the bill and all of its amendments prepared with a decent chance of passing by next year.

If the law remains unchanged, the state is expected to spend an extra $88 million by 2020 to provide scholarships to 25,500 students who wouldn’t have been eligible for a lottery scholarship before the grade-point change, according to data from the Commission on Higher Education.

When the state changed the grade-point scale, which became effective in the 2016-2017 school year, “We created a bit of a budget deficit,” Hembree said at a March 21 subcommittee meeting. “That will continue to grow, no question.”

The bill likely is dead this year for several reasons:

Tuesday is the deadline to pass the Senate bill before the current session ends without special procedures.

Several of the bill’s expected amendments — allocating more money for education majors and need-based scholarships — have yet to be filed.

The legislature still has major work to finish, including the budget, the fate of Santee Cooper and the state pension system, all of which come ahead of reforming the lottery scholarship program, said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who sits on the Lottery Scholarship Subcommittee.

The legislature could reform the lottery scholarship program on a temporary basis by inserting reforms into the budget, but those would apply only for a year, Hutto said. As for lasting change to the program, “I think it’s gonna be next year,” Hutto said.


Lucas Daprile writes for The State, where this article originally ran.