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IS THE LOTTERY RIGGED AGAINST HOME-SCHOOLERS?

IS THE LOTTERY RIGGED AGAINST HOME-SCHOOLERS?

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Soon after signing Tennessee’s lottery legislation -- one measure to establish the lottery, the other to set up lottery-funded college scholarships -- Gov. Phil Bredesen admitted some fine-tuning is in order. Bredesen didn’t say so, but the first bit of tinkering involves the disparity between scholarship requirements for children who graduate from public and private high schools versus those who are home schooled. Quite simply, home-schoolers are being cheated. Under the legislation Bredesen signed into law, traditional high school graduates need only achieve a 3.0 average or a 19 on the ACT college entrance examination to receive lottery-funded scholarships beginning in fall 2004. The lottery scholarship legislation sets a much higher standard -- a 23 on the ACT -- but no grade point average for home-schooled graduates. “That’ll change. It was just an oversight on the House’s part,” state Sen. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said amid the din of the jam-packed old Supreme Court chambers, where Bredesen signed the legislation on Wednesday. A conference committee of House and Senate members resolved differences between Senate and House versions of the lottery legislation on the final day of the legislative session last month. The 23 ACT requirement apparently was to have been lowered, but somehow it never made it into the final product. The House lottery sponsor, Chris Newton, R-Benton, said Wednesday that he planned to pre-file legislation on Friday to correct the deficiency. Newton, an able legislator, said he expected the matter to be settled early in next year’s legislative session, thus assuring home-schoolers they would not be discriminated against in lottery scholarships. Then he added, “there’s some opposition to lowering the requirement.” Uh-oh. Who’s the opposition? No one will say publicly. The Tennessee Education Association is on record as opposing lower standards in the first place because every lottery dollar that goes to scholarships is one less dollar that could be spent on early childhood education. TEA representatives did not return phone calls for comment. Could it come from the Black Caucus, whose members succeeded in lowering the original 23 ACT test scores and 3.0 GPA because, they argued, inner-city schoolchildren do not fare as well as suburban students on standardized tests? Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis, who was actively involved in the grade point and ACT debate, did not return a phone call for comment. Even Bobbie Patray, who heads the conservative Eagle Forum and is a staunch advocate of home schooling, declined to point a finger at the opposition, whoever it may be. “There’s just a small group of people down there concerned about home schooling,” Patray demurred. She noted home-schoolers often are high achievers. She pointed out that teams of home-schooled high school students have won the American Bar Association’s National Mock Trial championship for the past two years. One of those students is headed for Harvard this fall, she said. Newton said he is determined to level the playing field for home-schooled children and give them a fair chance at receiving the $3,000-a-year scholarships, which can be the difference between students going to college or asking, “you want fries with that?” “I intend to change it,” Newton vowed. He may just do that. But in Tennessee’s General Assembly, that’s often easier said than done. First, he has to identify the opposition.

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