Vo-tech aid item cleared for ballot

Plan would allow cash for students

Ryan Cook (right) of Farmington works with Seth Stubblefield of Bentonville to assemble a welding cart at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale in this Sept. 30, 2020 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)
Ryan Cook (right) of Farmington works with Seth Stubblefield of Bentonville to assemble a welding cart at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale in this Sept. 30, 2020 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

The Arkansas Senate on Thursday voted to refer to voters in the 2024 general election a proposed constitutional amendment intended to allow state lottery proceeds to fund or provide scholarships or grants to Arkansans enrolled in vocational-technical schools and technical institutes.

The Senate voted 30-3 on Thursday to approve House Joint Resolution 1006 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, which is the proposed constitutional amendment. Two senators were absent.

The House voted 97-0 on Tuesday to approve HJR1006.

Amendment 87 to the Arkansas Constitution, approved by voters in 2008, limits lottery funded scholarships and grants to citizens of the state enrolled in "public and private non-profit two-year and four-year colleges and universities located within the state that are certified according to criteria established by the General Assembly."

Under HJR1006, the Arkansas Constitution would be changed to allow lottery funded scholarships and grants to citizens of this state enrolled in a public or private nonprofit two-year or four-year college or university, a public or private vocational-technical school, or a public or private technical institute.

The proposed constitutional amendment would become effective on or after Jan. 1, 2025, if voters approve the proposal during the November 2024 general election.

The popular name of the proposal would be "A Constitutional Amendment to Provide that Lottery Proceeds May Be Used to Fund or Provide Scholarships and Grants to Arkansas Citizens Enrolled in Vocational-Technical Schools and Technical Institutes," under HJR1016.

According to Lundstrum, the proposed constitutional amendment is needed to help students access training for vocations including licensed practical nursing, trucking, refrigeration, industrial maintenance and plumbing.

During a meeting of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, she pointed to vocational schools around the state that allow students to enter jobs paying starting salaries upwards of $40,000 after completing six to eight months of training.

Shane Broadway, a former state senator and a former speaker of the Arkansas House, told the House committee the drafters of Amendment 87 to the Arkansas Constitution for whatever reason did not include vocational-technical schools.

"As we worked on developing the scholarship program, we were told by our attorneys we could not include state-owned vocational-technical schools because they were not included in the definition in the constitutional amendment," said Broadway, who is vice president for university relations for the Arkansas State University System.

If the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by voters, Broadway said lawmakers would be responsible for passing an implementing law setting the parameters of the expanded lottery scholarship program.

In a related action Thursday, the Senate voted 32-0 to send Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders a bill that would allow the state to use the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Program to pay for students to attend a vocational or technical school.

House Bill 1417, by Lundstrum is a companion bill to the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state's lottery scholarship funds to be used by students to attend a vocational or technical school.

Under the bill, the disbursement of additional funds allocated for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship Program under a part of state law would be required to account for the distribution of up to $2 million by the state Division of Higher Education on the behalf of students who are enrolled in a technical institute or a vocational-technical institute.

In every regular legislative session, lawmakers may but are not required to refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to voters.

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee hasn't recommended the Senate consider any of the proposed constitutional amendments proposed by state senators.

Information for this article was contributed by Neal Earley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


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