A state lawmaker's crusade to increase the amount of Tennessee's lottery scholarships is raising concerns among his colleagues and the governor, who say giving full scholarships this early in the program may create a financial crisis down the road.
Sen. Steve Cohen, the main sponsor of the bill that created the scholarships last year, said he wants them to fully cover tuition at the state's colleges and universities.
Currently, scholarships cover about 75% of students' tuition and fees.
Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, pushed last year for increasing the awards for students at four-year colleges to $4,000 and to $2,000 for two-year college students, but lawmakers were hesitant to commit too much money to a program just in its second year.
"It's the people's money," said Cohen, who lobbied for a state lottery for decades before voters approved the games in 2002. "The money should go to the people and not just be put in some type of reserve account."
The lottery account has $201 million now, state officials said. To qualify for a lottery scholarship, Tennessee high school graduates must have a 3.0 GPA or 21 on the ACT assessment test.
This year, the second year the scholarships were available, awards for students at four-year schools increased by $300 to $3,300 and by $150 to $1,650 for students at two-year schools.
Cohen said he will try for another increase when the General Assembly convenes next month.
But some lawmakers say giving full scholarships this early in the program's history may hurt the state in the long run.
"We certainly don't need to get in a position where we have created some expectation that three or four years from now we can't meet," said Sen. David Fowler, R-Signal Mountain. "Promising a full scholarship at this early stage is not a good idea."
Lydia Lenker, spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Bredesen, said the governor has no plans to propose legislation concerning the lottery during the upcoming session.
"This past session, a good first step was made to address the governor's concerns about extending the scholarships to nontraditional students," she said in an e-mailed statement. "The governor continues to stress fiscal responsibility to ensure the state doesn't end up with a deficit."