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Tennessee looks to divert sports wagering taxes to Promise completion grants

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(The Center Square) – A proposal aimed at helping low-income students complete their degrees through the Tennessee Promise scholarship program will soon be heard in the Tennessee Legislature.

Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, explained that a bill that would direct 5% of taxes collected from sports gambling in the state toward completion grants was aimed at improving student retention for low-income students.

Tennessee Promise is a scholarship, which started in 2014, to help students obtain an associate degree, credential or diploma free of tuition and mandatory fees.

It’s a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it will cover costs after other scholarships are factored in at community colleges, or it will fund up to the $4,000 average community college tuition mark for associate degree programs at four-year schools.

White said data showed just 33% of low-income students in the program return for a second year. But, when coaching and grants to pay for the additional expenses of being a student are paid for, that 82% of those students stay to complete their degree.

An amendment to House Bill 2184 capping the annual 5% going to the program at $5 million annually was added on Monday and the bill will be heard by the Tennessee House Higher Education Subcommittee soon as part of a committee calendar devoted to Lottery for Education bills.

The bill will make what was previously a pilot program for grants into a permanent program. A fiscal note on the bill estimates that it will initially divert $4.2 million annually into the completion grant account.

The Tennessee Sports Wagering Council collected $83.6 million in sports gambling privilege tax in calendar year 2023.

Tennessee collected $82.1 million in privilege tax on mobile sports wagers last fiscal year with $78.8 million projected this fiscal year and projections of $82.7 million next fiscal year before reaching a projected $86.9 million in taxes the following fiscal year.