Town Hall Meeting on HOPE on March 10th at 6:30pm at Admin Building


2/28/2011 ~ by Rick Jasperse

I thought I would spend this weeks’ column talking about HOPE and how it will affect your family in the future. Governor Deal’s proposal for HOPE and Pre-K has just been released, and I hope I can clear up some of the questions I am getting.

As a parent of three children, all who received HOPE in college, I’ve seen firsthand the impact the HOPE scholarship program had on my family. During my career as County Agent I saw how it allowed many young people and adults go to college who may not have had the chance if it were not for this program.

For some, HOPE is the catalyst that propels them to work harder in high school and graduate with higher academic achievement. For others, it makes a college education financially affordable.

HOPE is currently at a crossroads due to the program’s popularity outpacing lottery revenues.

The nearer-term struggling economy and farther-term changing workforce demands have driven record college enrollments in recent years. Georgia's 35 universities and colleges enrolled six percent more students in 2010.

Program costs will surpass lottery revenues this year, dipping into the reserve’s $300 million. Without changes, "checks" for future scholarships maintained at current levels will bounce.

As a State Representative, parents often ask me this very real question: “Will HOPE be around for my kids?” Due to the changes we are going to make, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Our goal with the proposed changes is simple: to preserve and strengthen HOPE for tomorrow's students and for generations to come. This will not be achieved without tough decisions, though.

The first HOPE scholarship was awarded in fall of 1993. The original program included numerous restrictions, primarily due to unknowns such as how much revenue the lottery would generate and how many students would participate.

Since then, HOPE's scope and scale expanded and more than 1.2 million students have been awarded a HOPE scholarship or grant. The Georgia lottery-funded Pre-K program has enrolled more than 1 million students, including 53 percent of today’s four-year-olds. Pre-K offers more than six hours of daily instruction at a $4200 cost per child.

Changes to HOPE since 1993 include: expansion to four college years; $150 semester book allowances; mandatory fees payments averaging $420 yearly; additional chances to re-gain HOPE; expansion to include older college and home-schooled students; and increases in scholarship grants to $4000 for private college students.

Because HOPE is most known for college scholarships, some may not realize its impact on workforce development needs. The HOPE Grant program pays tuition for Georgians seeking a technical certificate or diploma at 26 technical colleges. Enrollment increased 25 percent in 2010 alone.

Students from all across the socio-economic spectrum have been trained to compete in today's job market through the HOPE Grant. The young man that recently passed the GED sits side-by-side in night classes with a 47-year-old single mother. In fact, over 50 percent of HOPE scholarship and grant recipients have family yearly incomes less than $40,000.

HOPE has increased the number of students who have a college education, while also keeping our highest achievers in state. More students than ever, scoring in the top 10 percent on the SAT, choose an in-state college, thereby keeping the best and brightest here in Georgia.

This week, Gov. Nathan Deal outlined proposed changes to the HOPE program and with strong bipartisan support. HOPE programs will be maintained and adjusted yearly according to lottery revenues.

Next year, merit-based HOPE scholarship students attending public and private colleges as well as technical college students will receive 90% of 2011 tuition amounts. HOPE Scholarship will continue to require a 3.0 GPA.

The plan also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship - offering full tuition to Georgia’s public colleges and universities - for our best students who graduate with a minimum 3.7 GPA and 1200 on the SAT or ACT equivalent. Books, fees and remedial college classes will no longer be covered.

There are proposed changes to Pre-K that will move it from a six and a half-hour program to a four-hour program. The proposal is to add 5000 slots to address the waiting list across the state and to add funds for travel and extended day for at-risk children.

There will be a one percent loan program created for students, and these loans can also be forgiven altogether if loan recipients become certified to teach in a public K-12 school in science, math, or technology (STEM) fields.

This Proposal is being studied currently and looks like it will move through both houses quite quickly. I do have a detailed report I can send you if you would like, and I plan on talking about it at our next town hall meeting on March 10th at 6:00 in the Pickens County Administration building. Please call me at 404-656-0188. Thank you for allowing me to represent you at our Georgia Capitol.