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How will Tennessee's lottery work?

The question begs a thousand more, but the public can hear the latest answers by attending a town hall meeting at Tennessee Tech University this Saturday. A panel of state leaders, most members of the education lottery task force, will take questions and give updates on how lottery money will be spent in Tennessee.

"The average citizen has not had an opportunity like this one to ask questions of the task force about how the lottery will be implemented," said Angelo Volpe, TTU President Emeritus and task force member.

Charged with making recommendations to the state legislature about the lottery, the education task force has spent the last few months reviewing issues of eligibility, benefits, performance, graduation, and economic returns to the state. Volpe says studying other states' programs has the general consensus of the group moving toward starting conservatively to build a firm foundation for educational improvement.

"The task force has not decided anything yet, so I'm speaking for myself. But I believe we need to start out conservatively and then build upon that as the revenue increases," said Volpe. "I don't think we should start out at a higher level of benefits and then have to cut back."

The areas slated to benefit from lottery proceeds include scholarships, early learning programs, after school programs, capital outlay projects and a reserve fund. The group is leaning toward recommending the funding of scholarships and early learning programs first, then adding the other areas as revenues grow. They have listened to testaments that the basis of Georgia's HOPE program success is a clear and consistent set of eligibility criteria to receive and retain scholarships.

"I'd recommend let's do one or two things well instead of trying to do four or five things mediocre," said Volpe.

There's still quite a debate on whether Tennessee's scholarships will be need-based, merit-based, or a combination of both. Part of Saturday's discussion will focus on the pros and cons of each choice.

Questions from concerned citizens have included some misconceptions about who lottery revenues will benefit, said Volpe. For example, he said some Tennesseans incorrectly thought K-12 teachers and current college students were among groups who would receive additional funding.
The task force is examining criticisms of other programs, including the HOPE scholarships. Volpe said one statistic shows only four percent of students receiving HOPE scholarships would not have gone to college unless they received money. That number calls into question a lottery's ability to increase access to education.

But Volpe says a more telling statistic shows that the best and the brightest students in Georgia have been increasingly choosing to stay in the state. The percentage has risen from 25 percent in 1992 to 75 percent.

"We are experiencing a brain drain in Tennessee, and it stands to reason if you keep the best students here to go to college, you have a better chance of keeping them in the state for good," he said.

Brian Noland, chief policy and planning officer of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, will join task force members Richard Rhoda, THEC executive director; Charles Manning, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents; Rep. Les Winningham, District 38 and chairman of the House Education Committee; and Volpe on stage to take questions for the hour-long forum.

WSMV-Channel 4 will air the town hall meeting live from 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday from TTU's Derryberry Hall Auditorium. Anchorman Dan Miller will host the event. The public is invited at no charge, but seating is limited. Doors open at 5:15 p.m.

For more information, contact the TTU Public Affairs Office at 372-3214.