DALTON, Ga. - Northwest Georgia counties last year received about 5 percent fewer dollars in HOPE scholarship and pre-k funds than the state average, based on ticket sales in the region.
Seven counties - Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Gordon, Murray, Walker and Whitfield - had $152 million in total ticket sales in fiscal 2010, according to numbers from the Georgia Lottery Corp. Those counties received $32 million in education funds from lottery proceeds, or about 21 percent of sales. About 13 percent went to HOPE scholarships and 8 percent to prekindergarten.
Overall in Georgia, about 26 percent of total ticket sales went to education funds.
The amount of money going for HOPE scholarships in individual counties depends on the number of eligible students and how many decide to attend college, according to Tracy Ireland with the Georgia Student Finance Commission. The commission oversees the distribution of scholarship funds.
"The biggest factor is eligibility coming out of high school," Ireland said. "You have to have a 3.0 GPA. And some counties may have large numbers of students choosing not go to college - some students choose to do something else."
Under the Georgia Lottery for Education Act of 1992, at least 35 percent of the lottery proceeds were designated to go toward education "as nearly as practical."
At least 45 percent of the ticket sales proceeds must be made available as prize money, according to the law.
However, numbers from Northwest Georgia counties last year show wide variations, and significantly more money goes toward prizes and less toward education funds than the state law suggests.
Money returned to counties falls into four categories - HOPE scholarships, pre-k spending, prizes and retailer commissions. The seven counties saw an average of 87 percent of ticket sales returned in the 2010 fiscal year.
Gordon County had the highest return at 97 percent, and Dade County had the lowest at 65 percent. Gordon County also received the highest percentage of education funds, and Dade County had the lowest compared to total ticket sales.
Whitfield County, which has the highest population, had the highest ticket sales and saw 90 percent of money spent on tickets returned.
The seven counties received almost $90 million, or 59 percent, of the money spent in prizes, while the rest returned to counties went to retailer commissions. The state average for money awarded in prizes was 58 percent of ticket sales.
Tandi Reddick, spokeswoman for the Georgia Lottery, declined to comment on how allocation decisions are made for education funds and prizes.
CHANGES IN FUNDING
A state law that takes effect this fall will change eligibility for HOPE scholarships and decrease funding for pre-k. The changes came after the Georgia Lottery saw a decrease in gross sales last year, while the demand for HOPE awards increased.
Under the new law, high school students must graduate with a minimum 3.7 GPA and earn a combined 1200 on the math and reading sections of the SAT to receive full tuition. Students with a 3.0 GPA will have only 90 percent of their college tuition covered, with no money for books or remedial classes.
Ireland said the state does not expect to see a lower number of students eligible for awards, even with the changes.
"We are expecting the funding to stay relatively flat," he said.
Carol Jones, financial aid director for Dalton State College, said high school students and their parents should stay as informed as possible in their quest to utilize lottery funds. An excellent source for information is Georgia's college website at gacollege411.org, she said.
In the last few years, largely due to the economy, the college has seen increased enrollment and more competition for funding dollars, she said.
"Keep abreast of the changes," she said. "There are students that will receive fewer funds and less students who may qualify for HOPE. And look for other sources of funding - there are federal grants available."