Lottery money helps to fund college

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Taylor County students earn $1.8 million last year.

By James Roberts

Kentucky Lottery proceeds awarded Taylor County students nearly $2 million in higher education scholarships and grants last year.

According to figures released by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, $1.8 million was paid to Taylor County students in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

About half of the money - $850,114 - went toward Kentucky Tuition Grants, a needs-based grant program for students who attend independent colleges, which 329 students received.

Lottery funds awarded 272 local students $438,174 in College Access Program funds. These are awarded to the state's neediest students.

The majority of students - 372 - received $537,258 in Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship funds.

During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the lottery took in $3.9 million in sales in Taylor County, while it paid out an estimated $2.5 million in prizes, according to Chip Polston, Kentucky Lottery Corp. vice president of communications, government and public relations.

And a good portion of the lottery revenue, is passed along to students.

"Since the scholarship and grant programs started in 1999, Taylor County students have received 10,848 awards worth $13,224,201," Polston said.

Seeking to keep Kentucky's brightest students in the state, the General Assembly created the KEES program in 1998. Administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, the program is fully funded by Kentucky Lottery proceeds.

KEES program awards are based on a student's GPA each year of high school. Student must have at least a 2.5 to earn money.

Students with a 2.5 GPA will earn $125 for each year of college. Students with a 4.0 will earn $500. There is also a one-time award based on a student's highest ACT composite score. Students scoring at least a 15 will earn $36, while a 28 or higher will earn the maximum $500 for each year of college.

A new KEES supplemental award was approved by the General Assembly earlier this year that allows students eligible for free and reduced lunch prices to earn up to $300 more based on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam scores.

Students could earn a maximum of $2,800 in KEES money for each year they attend college. However, to keep their funding, they must have a 2.5 GPA after their first year in college and a 3.0 afterwards.

"The beauty of the KEES program is that students don't have to apply for the money," Polston said. "It automatically follows them from high school to a school or college in Kentucky after they graduate. Each year they get a letter from KHEAA telling them what their award has been based on their GPA, and encouraging them to do better so they can get even more money."

The money may be used for in-state post-secondary schools. The only way to use the scholarship at a school outside Kentucky is to major in a field of study not offered at Kentucky schools.

KEES funding not only helps students pay for college, according to Taylor County High School Guidance Counselor Dana Young, it helps them during high school as well.

"I think it encourages kids to keep their GPA up," Young said.

It gets students thinking about scholarships early, she said. Still, time is of the essence, she said, as some scholarships and grants have only limited funding. Young said students who intend to go to college need to make an appointment with their high school guidance counselor to discuss their financial aid options.

Campbellsville High Principal Mike Deaton agrees that KEES is a good thing, but says the formula needs to be adjusted.

"The problem is that it discourages some kids from taking more rigorous classes," he said.

Deaton said some parents have even asked that their children be removed from college preparatory classes because their GPA was slipping and their KEES money was being affected.

Deaton said there has been discussion about adjusting the KEES formula to offer a greater reward for those students taking more challenging courses.

"We hope that is something they continue to look at."

The Kentucky Lottery also contributes $3 million each year to adult literacy development programs and "Read to Achieve," an early childhood reading program. To date, the lottery has provided $27 million to these programs.

In all, 78 percent of lottery proceeds will fund scholarships and grant programs, as mandated by the 2009-2010 state budget. As directed by House Bill 406, the remaining 22 percent will go into the state's general fund to be used in support of higher education initiatives.

All unclaimed Kentucky Lottery prize money goes into a KEES reserve fund to help maintain the financial stability of the organization. Around $8 million a year is projected to go into this fund.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.