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Deal wants funding increase for HOPE scholarship
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Gov. Nathan Deal stated he will push to increase funding for the HOPE scholarship program following the start of the 2013 legislative session Monday.

In 2011, Deal signed a bill that reduced HOPE from full coverage to 90 percent of the 2011 tuition rates for high school students who have a 3.0 GPA.

It also eliminated money for books and fees and gave students just one opportunity to regain the scholarship if they lost it due to falling grades.

The change, officials said, was due to declining Georgia Lottery sales, which, between 2009 and 2011, decreased by more than $71 million.

Deal is proposing to increase what each HOPE scholar receives by 3 percent, along with restoring the pre-kindergarten calendar back to 180 days and giving pre-K teachers a 4.9 percent raise.

According to the governor’s office, the Georgia Lottery Corp. transferred more than $901 million to the State Treasury’s Lottery for Education Account during the 2012 fiscal year — up more than $55 million from the previous year.

For the first quarter of the 2013 fiscal year, the Georgia Lottery Corp. transferred more than $221 million, up 8 percent from 2012.

“The strong performance of the Georgia Lottery combined with the critical reforms we made to HOPE and pre-K two years ago have stabilized these programs that are so important to Georgians,” said Deal in a statement through his office. “Our ability to increase these payments — when many opponents claimed they would go down every year — shows that our reforms returned HOPE and pre-K to stable ground.”

But some said the increase “falls short” and does not appropriately address rising tuition costs.

“More than 10,700 Georgia residents have signed a petition asking Gov. Deal to save the HOPE Scholarship but his new budget falls far short of this goal,” said Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia, a statewide advocacy group, in a press release. “Gov. Deal has proposed a 3 percent increase in the HOPE Scholarship as college tuition rises 6 percent at Georgia Tech, 5 percent at UGA and 3.5 percent at Georgia State. Students attending Georgia’s technical colleges are paying 13 percent more in tuition. Gov. Deal broke the HOPE Scholarship. His current budget does nothing to fix it.”

Last spring, the Board of Regents voted to raise tuition 2.5 percent for all but three public schools, or anywhere between $31 and $91 per semester. Tuition for Georgia Tech, University of Georgia and Georgia State students increased between $127 and $218 per semester.

Full tuition is still covered under the Zell Miller Scholarship for students who graduate high school with at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 score on the SAT. They would need to maintain a 3.3 GPA in college to keep it.

Seventy percent of those Zell Miller Scholars attend either the University of Georgia or the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Other states have similar programs. To receive full tuition, Florida students need a 3.5 GPA and a 1270 on the SAT. South Carolina requires a 3.5 GPA and a 1200 on the SAT to get the maximum of $6,700. Tennessee students can get up to $4,000 a year.

“HOPE continues to be the premier and most generous state scholarship in the United States — and it just got a little more generous,” Deal said.

Those on campus at the state’s public colleges and universities aren’t complaining.

“Our students are struggling now to pay for college and it’s becoming an increasing problem for them,” said Bonita Jacobs, president of the University of North Georgia. “Any assistance we can get is going to be very helpful. I don’t know the details of what (Deal) is proposing, but we have to look at education as ‘Yes, it helps the student, but it’s also part of the greater good.’”

Prior to the consolidation, 52 percent of students on the North Georgia College & State University campus received the HOPE Scholarship, while 31 percent at Gainesville State College received the assistance.

In 2012, Deal announced his Complete College Georgia initiative aimed at graduating an additional 250,000 college students by 2020. The longevity and livelihood of the HOPE Scholarship, he said, is key to reaching that goal.

“The jobs of the future in Georgia will require some degree of higher education, and HOPE plays a huge role in assuring access for many Georgia families,” Deal said. “Equally important for the state, it’s a lure that keeps our best and brightest in Georgia because if they go to college in Georgia, they are likely to work and pay taxes here when they graduate.”

Students, especially those receiving assistance from the HOPE Scholarship, said any additional revenue they can get would help ease the burden of their education.

“I think it’s definitely a great idea because I know how hard the economy is and it’s hard to find a job, so if you don’t get those kinds of scholarships then it’s hard to make it through school,” said Jessica Stapler, a sophomore at North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. “More money would definitely help out a lot of people and get more people into school.”

The Georgia legislative session will start Monday and runs for 40 legislative days.

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