Lawmakers to review scholarship programs


LITTLE ROCK — The state House and Senate education committees plan to conduct a comprehensive review of Arkansas’ college scholarship programs and the current funding shortfall affecting them, state Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, said Monday.

The decision to conduct the review comes less than a week after Gov. Mike Beebe said he would seek legislative approval to spend $1.1 million in state rainy day funds to address a shortfall in the Arkansas Health Education Grant program, which provides financial aid to Arkansas students pursuing graduate degrees at out-of-state institutions in in-demand health fields.

The program is not the only college aid program experiencing a shortfall. The state currently is about $5.5 million short in funding for various scholarship programs, which has resulted in cutting about 4,800 scholarship slots, according to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

“They are programs that have been added at different times through the years, and I think we need to evaluate what the original intent was and if they are still meeting their purpose,” said Key, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “Do we need to combine or consolidate or discontinue some of them, or are they all still valid, and if so then do we need to increase funding, or somewhere in between? There may be some programs that need to be increased and there may be some of these programs that can be phased out.”

Key acknowledged that the issue of scholarship funding — for programs not funded by the state lottery — was not a major focus during the legislative session that formally adjourned last month.

“Many times that’s what happens. We get into a session and we identify things that need to be looked at, we just don’t have time to address it all during the session,” he said.

ADHE Interim Director Shane Broadway said the department welcomes the review.

“There hasn’t been that kind of a review in a while,” he said.