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ASK THE EXPERTS

Funding challenges for education during recession

POSTED: December 12, 2012 4:00 a.m.

During my 12 years in the General Assembly, we have always been in some form of a recession. While economists say the recession ended in 2009, you can't tell it from our housing market and unemployment records. This has created ongoing challenges in funding education at all levels.

Budget cuts have affected higher education much more than K-12 (two of the House Committees I serve on).

When I taught at North Georgia College, the state funded about 75 percent of a student's education. Today the state portion is less than 50 percent.

In the beginning, as money to the University System was reduced, tuition and fees were raised to cover the monies lost by budget cuts because many of these costs were covered by the HOPE Scholarship.

When young people are laid-off or can't find jobs, they tend to upgrade their education. This increase in the student population, coupled with increased costs, put an ever increasing bite on HOPE Scholarship monies.

There was also increasing pressures on high school teachers to award ‘Bs' so students would qualify for the HOPE.

In 1993 when the merit-based HOPE (Help Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship was created, less than half of the students graduated with a B average.

In 2003 some high schools had as many as 70 percent of the seniors graduating with honors. Had students gotten smarter?

High schools had ceased to remain the filter they had been as was evidenced by the ever increasing percentage of students who lost their scholarship at the end of their first year of college.

Some years saw more than 65 percent of the students lose their HOPE Scholarship. These were not outstanding students.

The recession, growing individual education costs, and an increasing student body made it impossible for lottery monies to keep pace with the demand.

Remember that the lottery supports three groups of students: University System (HOPE Scholarship), Technical Colleges (HOPE Grant) and Pre-K.

As early as September 2003, I wrote about the necessity to change HOPE or it would run out of money.

Over the next seven years, I continued to warn that HOPE was running out of money.

In July 2010 the House and Senate Higher Education Committees held joint hearings to determine the best way to save HOPE Scholarships.

In 2011 HB 326 was passed as a means of saving HOPE.

A major change was that expenses would not exceed revenues. This meant that for the school year beginning in the Fall of 2011, students would receive 90 percent of tuition.

Each year the revenue allocated would be divided by the expected number of students and that would determine the amount designated for tuition.

Full tuition would be paid for Zell Miller Scholars who graduated from high school with a 3.7 average and a SAT score of a least 1200 for math and English combined.

Rep Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail hamerson@windstream.net. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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