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Georgia lottery turns the big 1-0

By Trina Trice

When Claudette Vosmaer plays the lottery, she has only one thing in mind ? winning money.

Although the Jonesboro resident doesn't play the Georgia lottery on a regular basis, when she does she likes to play the Cash 3 or Cash 4 games.

"People play it with their mood," she said. "We're playing for fun. Everybody's trying to make a couple of dollars?trying to make ends meet. We'll all hoping we'll hit the lotto."

Since the Georgia legislature made the state lottery legal in 1993, Georgians have helped the Georgia Lottery Corporation generate more than $18.58 billion in sales.

Over the past 12 months, lottery sales have reached a record $2.6 billion, meaning that the state's lottery-funded education programs will get $24 million within the next fiscal year.

The 6 percent increase in lottery sales from the previous year benefits programs such as HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten, resulting in a boost of funds from $726 million to $750 million.

That is a record, surpassing the $692 million for fiscal year 2001-2002.

While Vormaer plays for fun, recent Mt. Zion High School graduate Kristina Little is dependent on one of the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship.

If it weren't for HOPE, Little wouldn't be able to afford college "very easily."

"My parents could pull something off, but I'd have to take out quite a few student loans," she said. "The HOPE made it easier for me to pay for school and not worry about how I was going to pay it back."

The abundance of funds for the HOPE scholarship program come at a time when Clayton County's high school students could lose their eligibility for the scholarships if the school system loses its accreditation.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the school system on probation due to misconduct of the leadership on the Clayton County Board of Education.

If the school board doesn't take the necessary steps to get off of probation by June 2004, SACS gave the board a year, then the system could potentially lose its accreditation.

HOPE scholarship recipients must graduate from an accredited high school to be eligible.

More than 55 percent of high school graduates in 2002 were eligible for the HOPE scholarship.

The school system's pre-k program could be in jeopardy, as well. The program is getting close to $1.5 million dollars to fund the preparatory education of 4-year-olds at 19 locations in the county's schools, said Susan Adams, pre-k instructional lead teacher.

Other local lottery fund recipients include Clayton College & State University that received approximately $150,000.

"We used the money to invest in some computer hardware, a server I believe, and the software that goes with it," said Patrick O'Hare, vice president of CCSU. "That supports the registrar and financial aid. Both offices have a lot to do with bringing in new students, many of whom have HOPE scholarships."

Since 1993, the Georgia Lottery Corporation has returned over $5.8 billion to the state of Georgia for education. All Georgia Lottery profits go to pay for specific educational programs. These include Georgia's HOPE scholarship program; a statewide, voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds; and a wide range of technological and capital upgrades for the state's schools, technical institutes, colleges, universities and public libraries.

"As the Georgia Lottery Corporation celebrates its 10-year anniversary, transferring our $6 billionth to education is a special milestone," said Rebecca Paul, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corporation. "With our highest sales year ever and the largest transfer of profits in Georgia Lottery history, the greatest reward is knowing that Georgia's students benefit from every dollar of our success with the educational programs we fund."

Lottery sales have set a record nine of the 10 years since it began. The only down year, so far, was 2001.

Facts on lottery-funded programs:

The HOPE Scholarship provides tuition, mandatory fees and a $150 per semester book allowance. To be eligible, a student must be a Georgia resident, a 1993 or later high school graduate and have completed high school with a "B" average. Students must maintain a "B" average in college.

The Pre-K Program was established in 1993 to provide Georgia's 4-year-old children with the learning experiences they need in order to prepare for kindergarten.

The program could serve more than 63,500 children in the upcoming school year.

To be eligible children must be 4 years of age on September 1 of the current school year, whose parents are Georgia residents. The program is voluntary for both families and communities.

Pre-kindergarten programs usually operate on the regular school system calendar for the length of a typical school day. Programs may be offered at local public schools or through private providers of preschool services.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.