Four years ago, state lawmakers altered HOPE, the merit-based program that uses Georgia Lottery revenue to fund scholarships and grants for prospective college students, because the program was projected to go broke during the recession. The changes they made—reducing how many students qualified and how much they received—are now back up for reconsideration this week as lawmakers listen to casino proponents argue how legalizing table games and slot machines across the state could provide the state with up to $1.5 billion in additional funding for education, healthcare, transportation, and other needs.
State Rep. Stacey Evans, a Democrat from Smyrna who’s played an active role in shaping HOPE, is keeping a close eye on the study committee that’s weighing whether casinos should come to Georgia. In a recent interview, Evans chatted with us about how she would like to see the program retooled, the potential role of casinos in shoring up the state’s academic scholarship program, and why the state would benefit from providing some students with needs-based aid.
What changes would you like to see with the HOPE scholarship, which funds a portion of tuition for high school students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA; the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers full tuition for those with a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT; and the HOPE grant, which offers full technical college tuition for those with a 2.0 GPA?
The HOPE grant should equal full tuition, and right now it’s just a percentage. The grant is cheaper than the scholarship. It’s needed because we’ve got a skills gap in a lot of the areas where we’re missing the jobs, and unemployed folks are in areas where they can be trained at technical colleges. It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of them. It’s a real good way to get students in the door, get them out, and get them employed. There’s a $21 million-$23 million price tag—all lottery funds. The lottery is healthy enough to do that with nothing changing.