When it comes to the HOPE scholarship program, folks on both the political and the educational side of the aisle generally agree: Something must be done to save it.
And the plan unveiled Tuesday by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal seems to have approval from both sides, as well as from both sides of the political fence.
"I was very impressed with the very comprehensive nature of the plan they have come up with," said Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta. "Is it going to satisfy everybody? No, because for some, the amount of dollars is going to be reduced."
"We are happy to have found a bipartisan solution to save the nation's most valuable higher education scholarship program," said House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, in a news release. "We will join with our Republican colleagues by supporting an initiative offered by Gov. Nathan Deal."
The scholarship fund -- paid through the state lottery -- faces a $243 million budget shortfall this year and $521 million cash reserves are projected to run out by 2013.
No total amount of savings from the proposals was listed in a news release from Deal's office, although it did say about $31 million could be saved through changes in the HOPE grant.
Deal assured that all three of the lottery-funded programs -- pre-k, HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant -- are protected and current funding ratios will remain the same.
Since the inception of the HOPE scholarship in 1993, more than $3.5 billion in financial assistance has been awarded to 1.3 million Georgia students.
Deal's bill includes decreasing the number of daily hours in the pre-k program from 61/2 to four hours.
Proposals for HOPE scholarship
Zell Miller Scholars -- students with a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT or 26 ACT score -- would be awarded the full tuition scholarship if they attend a public college or university in the state.
Students with a 3.0 GPA would receive 90 percent of the standard tuition rate for attending Georgia public colleges and universities.
Funds for books and remedial classes would be eliminated
Eligible credits hours would be capped at 127
Proposals for HOPE grant
Eliminate the use of HOPE grant funds for remedial classes, saving an estimated $13.1 million.
Require students to earn a 3.0 GPA by the first HOPE checkpoint of 45 credit hours, saving an estimated $15 million.
Students who already possess a post-secondary degree are ineligible to receive the HOPE Grant, saving an estimated $2.8 million.
Establish a firm HOPE cap of 95 quarter hours or 63 semester hours for all students, saving an estimated $250,000.
Proposals for pre-k
Continue to receive one-third of all lottery-funded expenditures and remain a voluntary, universal, free program serving 4-year-olds, regardless of a family's economic status.
Move from a 61/2-hour day to a four-hour day.
Increase transportation funds.
Increase extended-day funds by $4.5 million, tripling the amount currently paid for these at-risk students.
The Georgia Lottery Corp.
Would limit bonuses awarded to Georgia Lottery Corp. employees to no more than 25 percent of their base compensation.
Would require that bonuses be based on the amount of net proceeds transferred to the Lottery for Education Account, not simply on lottery revenue.
Would lower the commission paid to lottery retailers from an average of 7 percent to no more than 5 percent on all games and provides that retailers shall not receive more than 1 percent of payouts -- estimated savings: $69 million.
Source: Georgia Governor's Office
As for the HOPE scholarship, it maintains the full tuition award for University System of Georgia students earning a 3.7 high school grade point average and with a 1,200 SAT or 26 ACT score, about 10 percent of HOPE users. This part of the scholarship would be named after former governor Zell Miller, who created HOPE.
But it reduces the scholarship amount to 90 percent for students earning a 3.0 GPA and would stop covering funds for books and remedial classes.
The bill probably will be heard by the appropriations committee on Thursday, said Dickson.
Georgia remains one of only four states to provide a universal pre-k program, according to a news release from the governor's office. During the 2009-10 school year, 82,000 children participated in the state's pre-k program, according to state's pre-k website.
Deal's proposal would add 5,000 slots to address the pre-k waiting list of about 9,000 children.
"It's a critical point in a child's education, and all we can do to help our kids to be ready to learn when they show up in school is very important," said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton.
The bill would also increase transportation funds and extended day funds for at-risk students in pre-k, which is good for Whitfield County, said Caroline Woodason, pre-k coordinator for the school district. But questions remain, she said.
"We are not really sure yet what impact it will have on our system because we don't know the details yet," she said.
Whitfield has 11 full pre-k classes with 220 students, with another 100 or more students on the waiting list.
Walker County Schools have 13 classes at seven schools serving 258 students, according to the district's spokeswoman, Elaine Womack, and there's also a waiting list, although she didn't have the exact number on Tuesday.
Besides creating the Zell Miller Scholarship program, which maintains full tuition coverage for Georgia's highest-achieving students, Deal's proposal also includes a minimum GPA for students to keep the HOPE grant, used mostly for technical programs, and a low-interest student loan.
"We all recognize that something has to be done to salvage the program and to keep it, so we are expecting changes," said Jodi Johnson, vice president for enrollment services and student services at Dalton State College.
Out of roughly 5,750 students at Dalton State, 2,278 are HOPE recipients. Of those, 67 percent receive the HOPE scholarship and 33 percent are in technical programs receiving HOPE grants, according to Johnson.
"I am pleased and at the same time sorry we are in this kind of situation where we have to make this kind of decision," said Dickson. "But given the financial crisis that exists with the scholarships program and pre-k, I think it was the best approach to it that I've seen."
Bethel said this is a positive framework for the discussion to move forward.
"We are choosing between bad options .. [but] we are going to find the best model available to preserve and protect it for future generations."
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