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NC House budget amendment cuts scholarship funding received from state lottery

As state legislators deliberate measures to close a state budget shortfall of $2.4 billion, budgetary adjustments could benefit K-12 education at the expense of the UNC system and community colleges.

The N.C. House of Representatives budget, passed earlier this month, included a last-minute amendment that eliminated millions of dollars in need-based financial aid for community college and UNC-system students.

The amendment eliminated need-based scholarships totaling $34.6 million for community college students and reduced need-based financial aid for system schools by nearly $10 million.

The funds, which are appropriated from the North Carolina Education Lottery, were redirected from scholarships and financial aid to the construction budget for K-12 public schools.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, sponsor of the amendment, said counties would struggle to meet their debt payments for public school construction without the added lottery funds.

“It was a tough decision,” Moore said. “There were tough choices to make all around.”

Shirley Ort, associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid for UNC, said in an email that 750 students at UNC would lose an average of $1,400 each in scholarship funding from the amendment, totaling about $1 million for the next two academic years.

She said the amendment will cost students across the state at institutions within both the UNC and community college systems.

In the 2009-2010 academic year, about 15,300 community college students statewide received $15.9 million in scholarship funds from the education lottery, said Bo Gray, vice president for college and community initiatives at Tri-County Community College.

The lottery provides about half of the state funding for need-based aid to community college students, Gray said.

He said he hopes legislators will lessen the proposed cuts for community college scholarships.

“Just to do an across the board elimination for anything is a dangerous precedent,” he said.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke and vice-chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on education, said he initially supported the amendment after counties complained that legislators “were pulling the rug out from under them” by not providing expected funds for debt payments.

But he said he did not fully understand the impact of the amendment until after it was included in the budget.

“The people who made this amendment had to get this money from somewhere,” he said. “I think that they probably went to the wrong place.”

Moore said counties rely exclusively on state funding for public school construction. College students have access to other resources — scholarships, financial aid and loan programs — that are not funded by the state, he said.

But while the N.C. Senate works on its own version of the budget, Moore said legislators will likely find other sources of financial aid within the education budget.

“I believe that a good bit of that scholarship money will be restored before the final budget,” he said.

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