"Rachel is language impaired, which affects everything you do," says Rachel's mom Kathleen Pearson.
This year, legislators considered opening up lottery scholarships to students with disabilities for programs like Vanderbilt's Next Step. It's where Rachel is graduating from, and where she's learned to work and live independently.
"She's getting to do what she wanted," says Kathleen. "Her dream has come true."
Legislators decided this session there's not enough lottery money for students like these.
"It made me feel like I can do anything," says Rachel.
What lawmakers did find enough money for a few years back is energy efficient initiatives at elementary, middle and high schools, not only green, but also smart light bulbs.
"That's just a motion sensor, so once we walk into the room the lights will come on and they'll stay on as long as there is motion here," says Assistant Principal at Hume Fogg Kelly Harned. "This is in all classrooms, all hallways everywhere in our building."
Sure it's a good energy efficient feature to have the ligths turn off when you leave a room, but the lottery was originally passed under the auspices of stopping the brain drain in Tennessee, keeping more local students at universities and trade schools here, and giving them money to do so was seen as the incentive.
"It may help save money and energy but we are about putting students in higher education," says Harned.
That money totaled nearly $100 million. With lottery scholarships at $4000/a piece, that could have sent an estimated 25,000 students to college a year.
"What makes it terribly ironic is the Obama Administration came right behind it the next year and put all that stimulus money into energy efficiency too," says Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle.
That's right. The state lottery was indeed paying for some of the same things federal tax dollars covered too. Despite those lightbulbs, some say we're just keeping too many aspiring students in the dark while the lottery sets record sales to the tune of $23 million year to date.
"I don't think that is sustainable every year like that, but I'm not the right person to ask that question," says Tn Board of Regents David Gregory.
The right person to ask is Rebecca Hargrove, the lottery's Chief Executive Officer. Though she shared news of record sales with Senators on the hill, when FOX17 asked her to answer questions about the lottery's growth and its sustainability, she declined 5 times. Even with record sales, and $370 million in lottery reserves, the Tennessee General Assembly spent a large chunk of this session debating whether to cut the very scholarships the lottery funds, affecting an estimated 5257 students.
"It's less serious than when we started the equation," says Tn Board of Regents' David Gregory.
Yes, there was a $9 million difference between how much the lottery made and how much it gave out in scholarships going back 3 years. The following year, a $5 million deficit, and last year, an $8 million gap.
"You cannot continue to spend more money than you take in," says Education Committee Chairman Senator Dolores Gresham. "We are not the federal government. We do not print money."
No, but the lottery has money. In fact, our WASTE WATCH investigation found $28 million still sitting in that lightbulb lottery account unspent! That could surely help plug any gap in the short term while we wait to see if lottery sales continue setting records and can keep pace with scholarships.
"The way they see the lottery is like starving your baby so you can buy them a car when they're 16," says Minority Leader Senator Jim Kyle. "What they're saying, we might go broke, so let's don't spend any of this $400 million that might help somebody and make our state better."
The idea of cutting scholarships proved too unpopular this session and did not pass, but the legislation will likely resurface again because some projections show the lottery deficit will reach $20 million this year. Our hope is that Rebecca Hargrove, who's in charge of the lottery's growth, will come forward and share with us financial projections. You can find all our WASTE WATCH stories on Fox17.com. Just go to HOT TOPICS and click on WASTE WATCH. You can also submit your ideas for WASTE WATCH stories in that same section.
Thursday, May 3 2012, 09:30 PM CDT
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