I am at the Gold Dome attending the four-hour hearing on the financial threats to the beloved HOPE Scholarship program; I will update as testimony occurs. (I think we call this live blogging.)
The HOPE hearing at the Legislature began with a caution by state Sen. Seth Harp that hard choices are ahead as the demand for the scholarship outstrips the funds. He warned against using the shortfall to sling mud as no one is to blame for the imbalance. (Here is a news story advancing today’s hearing.)
Now, David Lee of the Georgia Student Finance Commission is testifying. Many posters here contend that HOPE was created to keep the very top students in Georgia, but Lee did not list as one of the original goals. The three goals were to improve high school performance, increase college participation and increase college completion. He cited the retention of top students as a byproduct of HOPE, but not one of the initial goals.
He is showing lots of charts now that show a clear and troubling trend: Expenditures are exceeding revenues. He said the prior changes to preserve fiscal integrity of the program — including cutting books and fees and creating earlier checkpoints to retain the scholarship — will not be enough. Despite those cuts, he said we are back to double digit upward-bound trendlines in HOPE spending.
Now, the president of the Georgia Lottery is speaking. Margaret R. DeFrancisco says, “Everything we do depends on people buying lottery tickets.” She said the players tell the lottery that they play because of HOPE and pre-k.
DeFrancisco emphasized that all sorts of people play the lottery, likely to stave off the criticism that only poor Georgians play and thus underwrite the college education of more affluent Georgians.
She also said, “This organization was set up separate from state government as a public benefit corporation and an entrepreneurial enterprise.”
She then elaborated on the great success of the lottery, which has outperformed most other state lotteries. I assume this was to fend off complaints about the bonuses that she and her team get. Now, she is showing a chart of the 44 state and DC lotteries, again to highlight the success of her program. DeFrancisco noted that Georgia beat out California in sales, even though that state has four times the population. She is outlining new games, including a music-based one, and her hopes to expand where consumers can buy tickets. (Could be coming to Home Depot and Walmart, where Canada already sells lottery tickets, she said.)
She ended cute, thanking the legislators and then saying, “Remember, today could be the day.” (That is the lottery’s latest slogan.)
Questions from legislators: Will lottery sales improve if economy improves?
Citing the fact that Georgia is likely to come out of the recession slower than other states, DeFrancisco said, “Our trend is to strive for more certainly, but I don’t see astronomical increases.”
How about a sales tax on lottery tickets?
“No other lottery in United States has done that because it will not bode well for our sales or profits,” she said.
Now, Tim Connell, president of Georgia Student Finance Commission, is at the podium with his slides, showing a tiny sliver of the lottery pie that goes to programs other than HOPE or pre-k, including the HOPE Teacher scholarship that has since been been eliminated. But HOPE for students attending private colleges in Georgia — recently raised to $4,000 oer year- is still intact. I think that could be one area lawmakers might eliminate, although the private colleges have a lot of sway with the General Assembly.
To get a sense of that sway, Connell noted that the $4,000 for the private college awards began only as a $500 award. He also noted that policy changes over the years — including letting students regain HOPE once they lost it, which was not permitted initially – have increased the pool of HOPE recipients.
In fact, the entire history of HOPE is an expansion by the Georgia General Assembly, including allowing private college students who lost HOPE due to low grades to also get a “second chance” to regain it as given to public college students. (I think we should reconsider these second chances for regaining HOPE.)
The Legislature also expanded HOPE to homeschooled students and to students from unaccredited high schools. The program used to also cut into HOPE going to low-income students in the amount of Pell Grants they received. That was stopped, which led to a sizable tug on HOPE expenditures.
Connell says that the demand owes also to the increased high school graduation rate, which is sending more kids to college. He is now showing another one of those bleak charts that shows the soaring numbers getting HOPE.
In fiscal year 2011, HOPE is paying out more due to increased tuition at the public colleges and the Legislature’s decision to raise the private college HOPE Scholarship from $3,500 to the current $4,000. In bad economic times, people go back to school, leading to increases in the HOPE Grants, which go to technical school students.
While book allowances have remained flat and the state has frozen fees that HOPE underwrites, there have been pretty significant increases in tuition at the state’s public institutions. From 2000 to 2011, UGA tuition has increased 192 percent, according to Connell.
Now, Connell is giving the really bad news: In 2011, the lottery will be short $243 million.
By 2012, that goes to $317 million dollars.
(Here’s the bottom line if you have kids as young as mine, who are 11. Start saving more money for college.)
Now, questions are coming from legislators: Why are we paying HOPE to kids who lose their scholarships since they are not outstanding students if they blow their grade point averages? (This refers to the original name for HOPE: Helping Outstanding Students Excel, which hardly anyone uses any more. By the way, I just posted on the news that UGA is the nation’s top partying college based on student reports of alcohol and drug use, hours spent studying and Greek life. See any connection to losing HOPE?
Only 46.2 percent of students who had HOPE when they began University System colleges still retain it at the 3o credit hour checkpoint, Connell said. At 90 hours, only 37.4 percent were still eligible.
Why don’t we get the money back from kids who fail?
Connell: Nothing in the program allows state to recoup money on kids who failed college.
Now, state Sen. Nan Orrock is questioning whether we ought to consider the income of HOPE recipients, given the falling revenues.
“If we are spending loads and loads on families whose students were always going to go to college because their families had the income and then we are getting significant failure rates, what are we really doing? If the money is going in the pockets of well-to-do families — we all hear the anecdotes about the families buying condos in Athens or buying their students cars because they are getting HOPE… And what of our students who are at Auburn or at Florida because they can’t compete with the top HOPE scholars?
They are retiring for a lunch break. Testimony resumes at 12:45. See you back here then.
BACK at 12:45 with Dr. Holly A. Robinson, head of Bright from the Start, Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.
Pre-k is often the forgotten part of lottery-funded program, but Robinson is telling legislators the benefits of the universal pre-k program for Georgia’s 4-year-olds that began in 1995. (The program – held in public schools and in private child care centers – is open to all kids, but is voluntary so parents do not have to send their children. In some areas, there are waiting lists for state pre-k)
This year, Georgia pre-k served 82,000 children across the state. Of that number, 55 percent were from poor families. This year, the state added slots for 2,000 additional kids. There are 20 students per class, with two teachers in the room. (One is the lead teacher.) Of eligible 4-year-olds in Georgia, 58 percent are in state pre-k. In 68 counties, 70 percent of eligible children or more are enrolled.
Pre-k helps both children below the poverty line who are at greater risk for school failure and children just above the poverty line who move in and out of poverty. Robinson is now citing the 20087 Tulsa study and the Chicago Longitudinal Study, which has followed the impact of early childhood education on students over 20 years.
There were requests for 13,000 more pre-k slots than the state was funding from providers. Looking at actual waiting lists in 2009-2010, there were 9,381 families on waiting lists at the start of the year. At end of the year, there were sill 7,259 names on waiting lists, suggesting many families never found alternative programs for their 4-year-olds.
The state is now paying each school system $4,226 per pre-k student, which is only an increase of $226 since the program began as a pilot 18 years ago. Not too many relevant questions from lawmakers, reflecting the lack of knowledge of the program. One lawmaker talked a long time about how his son’s day care provider felt her curriculum was stronger than what pre-k offered.
Robinson was the last witness, so the floor is now open to legislators for final comments. One lawmaker suggested that the committee compile suggestions, such as funding HOPE at 70 percent. State Rep. Kathy Ashe said lawmakers should be asking the agency heads for their suggestions on how to cope with the money crunch since they deal with the issues every day.
Another hearing may be held in the fall. “I think we all understand the severity of the situation that we are in now with pre-k and HOPE, so we have great deal of work ahead of us,” said state Rep. Len Walker, chairman of the House Higher Ed Committee.
I am putting my sneakers on to run across downtown to the Atlanta Public Schools meeting where the cheating report will be released. Check back soon for that blog.