Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, is the state senator from the 42nd District, representing DeKalb. Carter is sponsoring legislation to restore an income cap on HOPE recipients, although his cap is higher than the one that Gov. Zell Miller put in place when he created HOPE.
In 1993, HOPE was limited to students from families earning less than $66,000 a year. The cap was raised to $100,000 in 1994. A year later, flush with lottery revenues, the state eliminated any cap on HOPE.
However, with the lottery failing to keep pace with the rising costs of HOPE, there is now discussion of restoring an income cap. I asked Sen. Carter to write an op-ed piece for the Monday AJC about his legislation. Here is a preview for blog readers:
By state Sen. Jason Carter
Last year, Governor Nathan Deal made his reform of the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship programs his only “signature” legislation.
Today, based on his administration’s own reports, it is clear that his reform has failed.
First, the governor’s budget calls for the HOPE programs to pay out more that they take in — again.
In fact, the plan not only dips into the lottery reserves, but it spends HOPE’s “rainy-day” money until it cannot spend any more. Thus, despite the “reform” HOPE is still not living within its means.
In addition, the current plan fails the hard-working, high-achieving students who depend on HOPE, and the plan ultimately harms our state’s economy.
According to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, by 2016 — in just four years — HOPE will pay for less than half the cost of college. And, HOPE will continue to vanish over time. By the time my children are in college, HOPE will be an afterthought in the scheme of college costs.
Every year there will be more high-achieving students who cannot afford college. We need well-educated students to drive our economy, and any HOPE plan that reduces the number of students who can afford college can only be called a failure.
The administration’s badly miscalculated Zell Miller Scholars program makes the situation worse. Right now, more than 80 percent of the Miller recipients go to Georgia’s two most expensive colleges. And because it provides full tuition, the Miller program will get more expensive as tuition rises. The cost of the Miller program will balloon, while HOPE is vanishing.
We can do better. Senate Democrats filed legislation that will truly preserve HOPE for the future. Put simply, rather than destroy HOPE for everyone, we would restore the full HOPE scholarship for the maximum number of students every year. In addition to the current academic requirements, we would reinstitute HOPE’s original income cap. The cap will be set as high as possible each year based on lottery revenues, so that we maximize the number of students who get a full scholarship.
This year, if the cap is set at a family income of $140,000, then about 94 percent of Georgia families would be eligible for full HOPE. In many communities this would protect virtually all current HOPE scholars.
Our plan also reforms the Miller Scholarship to provide it to the top 3 percent of every high school, regardless of income. The best and brightest from every Georgia community would get a full scholarship, and the Miller Scholars would be spread throughout the University System, making it a truly statewide program.
This plan is more fiscally responsible. With a $140,000 cap, HOPE would run a surplus this year, instead of depleting the reserves. And in 2016, when the Governor’s plan pays less than half the cost of college, this plan could still provide the full scholarship for students whose families make less than $140,000. Unlike last year’s plan, the scholarship would serve its purpose and be financially sound.
I and others stand willing to discuss new and better ideas. But if we allow the failed HOPE reforms to stand, we risk the future of our children, our economy and we diminish HOPE for everyone.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog