The HOPE Scholarship, as we know it, is under attack. For almost two decades, the HOPE Scholarship has ensured that Georgia's students had an opportunity to continue their education.
That is all about to change.
The Governor's proposal, which passed the House last week, will break HOPE's promise and no longer fund full tuition. Instead, the amount of the scholarship will change every year, based on lottery revenue.
This fall, there will be about a 20 percent cut to the scholarship. The cost to students will likely rise every year. If tuition and lottery revenues maintain their current trajectories, in ten years, HOPE could fund less than half of tuition. In other words, under this proposal, the HOPE Scholarship will gradually deteriorate and the burden on students and families will grow.
The Governor's current proposal also cuts Georgia's Pre-K program to a half-day program. Pre-K and early learning provide the single best return on investment of state education dollars. Changing the structure of pre-K to a half-day program will have a disastrous effect for students, teachers, and families.
To be clear, we must do something: HOPE cannot pay for itself under the current system, and it must be reformed.
But there is a better way.
A group of state senators has proposed a plan to restore HOPE for the future. The Restore HOPE Plan achieves exactly the same savings as the Governor's proposal, while maximizing the number of students who receive the full-tuition HOPE Scholarship, and restoring pre-K.
While this plan incorporates some of the Governor's ideas, like eliminating the payments for books and fees, there are substantial differences. As a result, we are left with a real choice.
Under Restore HOPE, the HOPE Scholarship would be restored for all Georgians with an annual family income up to $140,000. This covers 94 percent of all Georgia families.
Restore HOPE provides that the eligible income would be adjusted every year, based on lottery revenues to maximize the number of students who receive HOPE. Families who do not qualify, would be eligible for a low-interest loan to cover tuition, the Zell Miller Scholarship program, and most would receive a federal $2,500 tax credit.
The low-interest loan would be forgiven, if a student agrees to teach science or math in public schools after graduation.
Restore HOPE also expands the proposed Zell Miller Scholarship, aimed at the best and brightest in our communities. Under Restore HOPE, every student who finishes in the top 3 percent of his or her high school class would receive full tuition, as well as payments for books and fees.
The Restore HOPE Plan will restore funding for Georgia's full-day Pre-K program through a 2 percent increase in lottery revenues paid into the education account.
This change would bring Georgia's Lottery Corporation into line with other similarly-sized state lotteries.
In Clayton County, for example, the difference between the two plans is stark. Under the Governor's proposal, every student at Clayton State University would face a 20 percent cut in their scholarship this fall, and additional cost increases every year.
Under the Restore HOPE Plan, roughly 95 percent of students at Clayton State would retain their full HOPE scholarship. The choice is clear: We can choose to preserve HOPE for the greatest number of students possible, or we can break HOPE's promise -- and end HOPE for everyone.
Valencia Seay and Gail Davenport are members of the Georgia State Senate, representing District 34 and 44, respectively. District 34 covers portions of Clayton and Fayette counties. District 44 covers portions of Clayton and Henry counties.