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2010 September 6 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: More Students To Be Awarded Ark. Scholarships

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — About 1,400 more students will be awarded scholarships with money from the Arkansas lottery, Gov. Mike Beebe announced after he learned an additional $5.9 million is available from lottery proceeds.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said an “unintentional miscommunication” led the Higher Education Department to base its scholarship decisions on having $76.7 million available in lottery money. But that figure was 8 percent lower than the actual amount available.

An e-mail exchange provided to The Associated Press revealed that Higher Education Department Treasurer Harold Criswell asked lottery Treasurer Timothy Parrish for the “net proceeds available as of June 30th.”

Parrish replied that $76.7 million was available. Criswell e-mailed Parrish again to ask if that was the amount available for scholarships, and Parrish replied, “Yes.”

Indeed, as of June 30, the money available was $76.7 million, but that did not include net proceeds from June ticket sales. That money wasn’t booked until July 9. June sales resulted in additional $5.9 million coming into the fund.

“It was just a miscommunication,” lottery commission spokeswoman Julie Baldridge said. “This is not an argument for us at all.”

The updated numbers that included the June proceeds were provided to the governor’s office and the Legislative Oversight Commission on July 9. That report shows $82.8 million had been transferred to the scholarship fund for the fiscal year ending June 30.

The state Higher Education Department received more than 54,000 applications for scholarships funded by the lottery. The agency awarded 25,455 scholarships, with students at four-year schools receiving $5,000 and community college students getting $2,000.

With thousands of students having been turned down, DeCample said the governor asked the departments to take another look at available revenues. When the full revenue total from the fiscal year didn’t match the number the Higher Education Department was working with, DeCample said Beebe sought the release of the additional funds.

The extra money will pay for scholarships for an additional 1,000 university students and 400 community college students.

The Higher Education Department was deluged with scholarship applications, but not just from students seeking lottery scholarships. The agency streamlined its application procedure for all scholarships and that created such a backlog that the department had to hire outside workers to help process the applications.

A year ago, the agency processed 23,105 scholarship applications, with 7,654 for Academic Challenge scholarship, a category now funded by the lottery. This year, students submitted more than 125,000 applications, with more than 54,000 for Academic Challenge money.

Voters approved the lottery in 2008 to fund college scholarships. The state began selling tickets last September.

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