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HOPE debate continues for would-be eligible students

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

For educators, legislators, parents, and students alike, the debate over the new lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship Program guidelines continues to raise concerns.

Some have referred to the new eligibility criteria as being a "catch 22," stringent enough to encourage more hard work among high schoolers, but so tough as to leave too many students out.

The program, started in 1993. It is funded by the Georgia Lottery for Education and provides scholarships to eligible students seeking degrees, diplomas, or certificates at in-state colleges, universities, and technical schools.

"When you change the criteria for HOPE ... the result has been, a third of the students that would have qualified do not qualify," said Rep. DuBose Porter (D-Dublin), speaking at the Second Annual Georgia Partnership Media Symposium in Atlanta on Jan. 23.

The graduating class of 2007 saw fewer HOPE Scholarship-eligible students than in previous years. About 32 percent of students who would have been eligible for the program in 2007, were left out, due to the new criteria which went into effect on April 30, 2007.

As a result, the lottery for education now has a surplus of $6 million, said Porter.

"We're not providing the resources to students, who quite frankly, it's their last opportunity to go to college," he said. "I think our priorities over the last few years have been the largest re-shuffling that I've ever seen."

The changes to HOPE included changes to the weighted grade scale for advanced placement [AP] and international baccalaureate [IB] courses.

The standard weight is 1.0 on a 4.0 scale for AP and IB grades earned before the 2006-07 school year. The standard weight for AP and IB grades earned during the 2006-07 school year, and afterward, is 0.5 on a 4.0 scale. And the Honors courses, that at one time, were weighted and determined by local school systems, no longer count as weighted courses.

The grades are now converted based on a traditional 4.0 scale before an overall grade point average is calculated - a grade of A=4.0; B=3.0; C=2.0; D=1.0, and F=0.0. Numeric grade averages are no longer considered.

Such changes have effectively increased the minimum qualifications for HOPE eligibility, while making grading scales standard from school to school and district to district.

A high school student enrolled in the college preparatory curriculum must have an overall high school grade point average of at least 3.0 in every core course to qualify for the scholarship as an entering freshman. And those enrolled in a non-college, preparatory curriculum must have an overall high school grade point average of 3.2 to qualify.

"It could be a good thing," said Kevin Karnage, a senior and honors student at Ola High School in McDonough. I guess it just depends on how you look at it. It's affecting me too, but my grades are still high enough for it."

Karnage, 18, said he is relying on receiving HOPE in order to keep himself and parents out of as much debt as possible.

Fellow senior, Evan Hammonds, 17, is taking advanced placement classes this year. He said he believes, in the last four years, he has earned his HOPE eligibility.

"Getting your work done is half the battle," Hammonds said.

"I was really hoping to get it," he added. "Obviously, it's not going to pay for everything, but it's a big help, whatever help you do get."

His father, Greg Hammonds, said he sees the new HOPE guidelines as beneficial to Georgia's education system in the long term.

"There does need to be a standard, I think," said Greg Hammonds. "If someone is going to offer you money to go to college, you should try to get it ... it would be nothing but beneficial to Georgia in the long run."