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HOPE scholarship back on track after restructuring
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As we've discussed in previous columns, Georgia is currently one of the most generous providers of merit-based financial aid in the nation. However, the HOPE scholarship is currently under attack by opponents who have proposed an income-based salary cap for students whose families make more than $140,000 per year.

When HOPE was originally created, eligibility was partially based on family income levels; this restriction was removed in 1995. No other state lottery restricts eligibility based on family income; every state lottery scholarship is set up to be a merit award program.

When Georgia created the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) scholarship and grant program in 1993, it was the first merit-based program of its type.

In addition, the bi-partisan coalition that initially passed the HOPE scholarship recommended that merit-based scholarships should treat all Georgians equally by rewarding hard work, dedication and academic excellence.

If an income cap was reinstated, some less-qualified students would be excluded from receiving HOPE based on income level, and could ultimately lead to the scholarship's economic insolvency.

The HOPE program is funded entirely by the net proceeds of the Georgia Lottery.

In FY 2010, lottery expenditures exceeded proceeds for the first time.

According to the Student Finance Commission which oversees HOPE, expenditures will exceed lottery funds by $317 million in 2012. While HOPE maintains a reserve account for such shortfalls, current projections indicate that if the HOPE scholarship and other grant programs are not reformed, all lottery reserves will be unable to meet their obligations by FY 2013.

To address these challenges, HB 326 was passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law during the 2011 legislative session to provide financial stability to the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs by decoupling lottery expenditures from tuition rates, and has accomplished its goal of preserving the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs (and the Georgia Pre-K program) by:

• Maintaining the HOPE Scholarship for students who graduate from high school with a 3.0 GPA and maintain it through college, but adjusting the scholarship award amount based on lottery revenue.

• Creating the Zell Miller Scholarship for students who graduate from high school with a 3.7 GPA and a 1,200 on the SAT (combined reading and math) or who graduate as their high school valedictorian or salutatorian and maintain a 3.3 GPA in college.

• Maintaining the HOPE grant for students pursuing a degree from a technical college, but adjusting the scholarship award amount based on lottery revenue and requiring recipients to have a 3.0 GPA in their technical college program by the first HOPE checkpoint (at 30 semester or 45 quarter hours).

For FY 2012 through FY 2013, scholarship award amounts will remain the same, and as a result, will continue to help Georgia's best and brightest receive a quality education.

Weekly Legislative Update

• Gov. Nathan Deal launched a needs-based scholarship program called Reach (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen). This program was specifically designed to provide students from lower income households with the opportunity to receive an affordable education.

• Sen. Josh McKoon filed legislation aimed at strengthening Georgia's ethics laws to restore the taxpayer's trust in government. If passed, this legislation would end unlimited giving from lobbyists to legislators. The State of Georgia is one of only three states without limitations on lobbyist gifts.

• Also this week, various people representing the following organizations visited the capitol, including; fire fighters, police chiefs, family physicians, pharmacy students, Leadership Forsyth, Equine Youth, the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, as well as the Young Farmers and Georgia Farmers Association.

As your representative of the 51st Senate District, I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact my office, and let me know how I can serve you best.

Sen. Steve Gooch represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at