The governor’s office disagreed with State. Sen. Jason Carter’s HOPE piece last week. Here is a response written by state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who chairs the House Higher Education. (If you can, read the Carter piece as this was written in response to it.)
By Carl Rogers
When researchers say that Americans are falling behind on math skills, we can assume they must have tested Georgia’s state Senate Democrats.
A year late to the party, Senate Democrats have discovered that Lottery revenue can no longer cover the full scholarship that HOPE once offered to all students with at least a B average.
“According to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, by 2016 – in just four years – HOPE will pay for less than half the cost of college,” Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, wrote in the AJC last week. So with Senate Democrats worried about the state of HOPE in four years, they have presented a curious solution: Spend loads more money now.
It’s difficult to even respond to such a proposal, other than to suggest a remedial math class.
This recklessness contrasts starkly with the sober, program-saving changes enacted last year. In the 2011 legislative session, a bipartisan coalition of responsible legislators took action to save the HOPE scholarship. After serving a full generation of outstanding students, HOPE was in trouble. In 2010, for the first time since the Lottery began, expenditures outpaced revenues – and it was only going to get worse.
Working together, House Democrats joined Republicans to rescue the HOPE scholarship and our pre-k program from the brink of disaster. The Enduring HOPE law covers full tuition for Zell Miller Scholars, students who attain a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT. All other funds are divided among students who keep a B average. Like any good entitlement reform, this directly tied expenditures to revenues and it preserved Georgia’s standing as the state with the most generous scholarship program in the nation.
When the Enduring HOPE bill passed the House last year, Senate Democrats went into hiding. At the eleventh hour, they finally appeared – wet fingers raised high into the winds — with proposals that did nothing to stem the tide of red ink.
The fact is, if we had followed Carter’s timorous lead last year, no one would be discussing spending projections for 2016 because the program would go bankrupt in the budget year that begins July 1.
It’s ironic that Carter criticizes the current HOPE plan for dipping into its reserve fund, when last year he called for spending an additional $240 million out of that account to grandfather in all current college students and qualified high school seniors.
The contradictions don’t stop there.
The senator criticizes the Zell Miller Scholarship as too expensive even as his plan calls for expanding the pool of Miller Scholars by providing it to the top 3 percent of every high school. That’s unaffordable and it would create a quota system. The Carter Quota would undercut academic results by rewarding some less-qualified students while excluding higher performing students in other schools.
Carter asserts that we can cover the full tuition cost of all recipients if we impose a household income cap of $140,000. Baloney. A cap that high excludes only 6 percent of Georgia’s families from HOPE eligibility, according to the senator’s own numbers. While no economists have run the numbers, we know the cap would have to dip far below $100,000 per household to keep up with Carter’s Obama-like spending promises.
Even with all the debt Carter would run up, he would manage to destroy the merit-based system that rewards results and creates an incentive to keep our best and brightest in Georgia.
Last year’s reforms saved HOPE with eyes on the next generation. Senate Democrats would bankrupt HOPE with eyes on the next election.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog