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House passes education funding plan, voting reforms
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The pace at the capitol quickened this week as we worked our way closer to the halfway point of the 2011 legislative session. As committees continued to scrutinize legislation, my colleagues and I in the House passed several important pieces of legislation. The HOPE Scholarship, K-12 education funding, and early voting reform were addressed by the House last week.


I want to thank all of you for the suggestions you made to keep HOPE afloat and the suggestions concerning early voting. Many of your suggestions were incorporated into the compromises reached this week to revise both programs.


HOPE has been a success. Since its creation in 1993, more than 1.2 million Georgians have received a HOPE scholarship or grant.


The scholarship currently covers full tuition for Georgia residents who maintain a 3.0 grade point average, or GPA, while attending a public college or university in the state. Qualifying Georgians attending a private college or university receive a $4,000 scholarship for tuition. Additionally, the scholarship provides a $150 book allowance each semester and pays mandatory student fees averaging $420 a year. 


Thanks to HOPE, Georgia has increased the number of students earning a college education, while also keeping our highest achievers in-state. One study estimates the college attendance rate among all Georgia 18- to 19-year olds increased by as much as 8 percentage points due to HOPE.  More students than ever scoring in the top 10 percent on the SAT choose an in-state college.


Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of those HOPE scholarships are lost the first year, and only 16 percent of the scholarships are maintained through graduation. This results in millions of dollars being lost by non-performing students, which could have been used to shore up those who are truly outstanding.


The HOPE program also includes grants that pay tuition for Georgians seeking a technical certificate or diploma at one of the state’s 26 technical colleges.


Thanks in part to the HOPE Grant, technical college enrollment increased 25 percent in 2010 alone. This has had a tremendous impact on our state’s workforce development needs. In fact, many businesses have touted HOPE as an incentive to locate and create jobs in Georgia.


Under HB 326, merit-based HOPE scholarship students attending public colleges and universities, as well as technical college students, would receive 90 percent of 2011 tuition amounts. HOPE scholarship students attending private colleges and universities would receive $3,600 for tuition. The HOPE Scholarship will continue to require a 3.0 GPA, but the 90 percent factor will change. Each year the lottery money will be allocated based on the available money and the number of students expected to attend post high school studies. In 2012 the factor could be higher or lower than the 90 percent projected for next year. 


HB 326 also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will offer full tuition to Georgia’s public colleges and universities to students who graduate from high school with a minimum 3.7 GPA and a combined score of 1,200 on the Math and English portions of the SAT or 26 on the ACT.


Books, fees and remedial college classes will no longer be covered.


This bill passed the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 24 and awaits a floor vote by the whole House.


We also passed HB 192, which addresses our need to adequately fund the state’s K-12 public schools. This legislation creates the State Education Finance Study Commission to study and evaluate resources needed to educate a child in Georgia. The commission’s findings will be used to develop a comprehensive K-12 educational funding formula to meet the modern needs of our elementary, middle and high schools. 


The process is important because the state’s current K-12 funding formula, known as QBE, has not been sufficiently updated since it was originally established in 1985.  Though well designed for its time, the formula lacks proper accounting for inflation, technology enhancements, and other modern education needs.


We passed HB 92 this week, which improves Georgia’s early voting law by implementing a standard, statewide voting start date. In a nutshell, early voting is reduced from 45 days to three weeks, including a Saturday.


It is time for Dawson County senior citizens to update their homestead exemptions in the tax assessor’s office. Last November, you passed three referendums for senior ad valorem property tax relief.  Here is a recap of what HB 1326, HB 1327, and HB1333 do:


The owners of parcels in Dawson County qualifying for the 65+ Senior Homestead Exemption program would pay full taxes on any assessed value over $65,000 for county and school system ad valorem property taxes.


Further, this exemption has an income restriction of $50,000, not counting Social Security or disability income. For those 70 and over, the exemption would be $120,000 of assessed value for school ad valorem property taxes with no income restriction. Additionally, full taxes are paid on all acreage over the five contiguous acres allowed for homestead.


Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capital Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-7857; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail