Black Caucus urges HOPE changes

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More changes are being urged in Georgia’s popular but financially stressed HOPE scholarship program, this time from the Legislative Black Caucus.

Caucus members said they are introducing four measures that propose modifications in how the scholarship money is divvied up, although none of them have a realistic chance of winning approval from a Republican-controlled Legislature.

At a news conference Thursday, they focused on a racial disparity in the scholarship program that is funded through Georgia Lottery revenues:  the percentage of African Americans who buy lottery tickets is larger than the percentage of black students who receive HOPE scholarships.

“We as a state of Georgia have been bamboozled into thinking that HOPE is attainable to all students when we know that many Georgia citizens in inner cities, in rural Georgia pay into the lottery, but their chances of HOPE are minuscule,” said Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah).

“It is our sincere hope and desire to cast a bright light onto the HOPE programs to demonstrate the chasm between those Georgians who fund the scholarships and those who receive those tuition funds and grants,” said Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Stockbridge), who chairs the Black Caucus.

To that end, caucus members will introduce a resolution calling on the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which administers the scholarship program, to compile demographic data on the gender, race and geographic location of HOPE recipients, with separate data for those who get their full tuition paid as Zell Miller Scholars.

Other bills being drafted would place a $140,000 family income cap on scholarship eligibility (a similar bill has already been introduced by other Senate Democrats) and disperse the Zell Miller scholarships across a wider number of colleges (currently, the great majority of these recipients attend either Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia).

Another bill to be introduced would match the HOPE scholarships awarded to students in geographic regions with the amount of lottery revenues generated in those locales.

“Lottery tickets sold in one region will only go towards HOPE scholarships and grants to students who are residents of those areas,” the caucus said in its news release.

Legislators have been struggling for several years now to try to fix the HOPE program, where the Georgia Lottery is no longer generating enough funds to satisfy all the applications for financial assistance.

The General Assembly modified the program last year so that Zell Miller Scholars, who achieve a 3.7 grade point average, get 100 percent of their tuition paid but only 80 percent of tuition is covered for other scholarship recipients.

Recent financial projections prepared by the Georgia Student Finance Commission indicate that the amount of tuition covered by a HOPE scholarship could be as low as 50 percent by 2016 because of continuing softness in lottery ticket sales.

© 2012 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Emanuel Jones , HOPE scholarships , Legislative Black Caucus , Lester Jackson