Part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal is to fund Connecticut’s debt-free community college program by replacing its anticipated CT Lottery-based funding stream with an annual appropriation of $15 million.
The Pledge to Advance CT (PACT) covers the cost of student tuition and fees at Connecticut’s community colleges that aren’t covered by scholarships or federal or state grants. The measure was passed in 2019 and was supposed to have a set funding stream through revenue generated by CT Lottery’s online lottery games beginning in 2024.
The CT Lottery Corp. was authorized to sell online games in 2021, part of the overall bill legalizing online gaming, gambling and sports wagering. According to estimates from the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA), online lottery gaming revenue was anticipated to be $2-$3 million by 2023, with the potential to grow to $19 million by 2026.
However, according to the governor’s budget, the online lottery revenue would be nowhere near that by 2025 and not enough to fund PACT in 2024. According to the budget proposal, the transfer of online gaming revenue into the General Fund adds only $2 million in 2024 and $3 million in 2025.
The previous budget allocated $14 million toward the program in 2022 and $15 million in 2023 using “one-time resources,” according to Lamont’s budget proposal. Following those distributions, funding for PACT was supposed to come from CT Lottery.
Instead, Lamont proposes redirecting that online gaming revenue directly into the General Fund and funding the PACT program through an ongoing appropriation of $15 million per year.
According to an OFA infographic, the PACT program distributed a total of $6.2 million between Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, serving roughly 3,000 students per semester. The infographic anticipated upwards of $14 million from online lottery revenue in 2024 and beyond.
According to a 2021 report by the Office of Legislative Research, the PACT program had 4,940 total participants, paying out $4.9 million in community college costs during the Fall 2021 semester alone.
“Appropriating this funding as part of the state budget ensures that resources will be available to honor this commitment to current and future students and enhance the state’s equity goals by removing financial barriers for those seeking to continue their education beyond a high school diploma,” Lamont’s budget proposal said.
The PACT program is part the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, and the $15 million ongoing appropriation, while more than would have been generated by online lottery games, is far less than CSCU President Terrence Cheng called for as part of the CSCU 2030 plan.
The CSCU 2030 plan called for a “seven-year investment of $386 million to support all Connecticut students entering CT State Community College credential and degree programs.”
“Without a doubt, PACT works and expanding it to deliver on the promise of free college for all will allow us to serve even more students. With an estimated 20,000 Connecticut community college students discontinuing their education during the pandemic, this investment would provide a tremendous incentive for many of those students to return,” the CSCU 2030 plan said.
According to the enabling statute, state revenue received through CT Lottery’s online lottery games would be used to fund the program on an ongoing basis, with any money over and above the costs of PACT being deposited into a special “regional planning incentive account.”
However, if it appears the online lottery revenue will not be enough to fund the program, the statute gives the governor latitude to propose adjustments to the state budget, according to statute.
“As the influx of federal stimulus funding and other one-time windfalls comes to an end, the Governor’s proposed budget acknowledges that living within our means presents difficult choices,” the budget says. “But those difficult choices require the state to make critical investments and continue supporting certain initiatives that can make the most difference for our students and out citizens.”
The proposed budget will also allocate an additional $4 million to the Roberta Willis Scholarship, which is anticipated to support scholarships to over 1,000 more students in Connecticut.