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This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, and today I’d like to talk about the progress we’ve made and about the opportunities the scholarships have provided for many of our young people.
One of my goals when I became governor in 2015 was to transform Arkansas’s state government so that it would be leaner. We have reduced the number of cabinet-level agencies from 42 to 15. We reduced the size of government without cutting any essential services, and in many cases, we have improved the state’s responsiveness.
But during my first weeks in office in 2015, I first started our transformation efforts with the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. I ended the Lottery Commission and folded the lottery into the Department of Finance and Administration.
This change streamlined the agency and allowed for more efficiency. We reduced the number of employees from 80 to about 70. This change and effective leadership boosted public confidence, and ticket sales increased almost immediately, which means more money going to the scholarship fund. We have now funded scholarships to 292,000 students.
Through the years, we have enhanced the program to benefit even more students. Act 597 of 2017 allows students to apply an Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship towards a graduate-level or professional degree.
Lottery proceeds also fund workforce training opportunities. The Arkansas Workforce Challenge Scholarship pays for tuition and fees up to $800 per eligible program for high-demand occupations in health care, information technology, and trades such as welding, and heating and air conditioning.
In addition, this spring, I signed the Arkansas Concurrent Challenge Scholarship law, which allows excess lottery proceeds to fund concurrent credit scholarships for high school juniors and seniors who are seeking college credit. This will be available in January.
The beauty of the scholarship program is in the stories of the students such as Allison Warner from Beebe, who was the first in her family to attend college. She used the lottery scholarship to pursue a nursing degree from Arkansas State University. Allison passed her board exams in May, and now she is an RN at Northeast Arkansas Baptist Hospital.
Miriam Ramirez used her Lottery scholarship to earn a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech. She earned her juris doctor at the University of Arkansas School of Law. In 2017, she opened her own law firm in Hot Springs. I recently appointed her as a member of the Arkansas Complete-Count Committee, which will promote participation in the U.S. Census next year. Miriam would not have been able to go to college without the Lottery scholarship.
I commend Director Woosley and his staff for their work that raises money to provide an education for many Arkansans who otherwise couldn’t afford one.