Georgia to mark 25 years of lottery, HOPE grants

State leaders are scheduled Wednesday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the most important decisions by voters and government in recent history: the start of the Georgia Lottery, which funds the HOPE Scholarship and its pre-kindergarten program.

Lottery officials have planned an event at the state Capitol featuring Gov. Nathan Deal, who worked with state lawmakers in 2011 to revamp the college scholarship and pre-k programs in an effort they said was necessary to keep them financially solvent after the Great Recession.

Critics, though, have said fewer students are getting the scholarship. HOPE funding to students has declined since fiscal year 2011 from approximately $747.5 million to the fiscal year 2017 total of about $634.2 million, according to Georgia Student Finance Commission data. The funding has increased from a low of about $502.9 million in fiscal year 2013. The lottery funds other scholarship and grant programs, in addition to HOPE and the pre-k program.

HOPE has been credited with helping nearly 2 million Georgians attend in-state colleges and universities, with many graduates staying here to work in local businesses or become entrepreneurs. The Georgia program was the first of its kind in the nation, a model emulated by seven other states. Some say the anniversary is an opportune time for Georgia's leaders to consider ideas to keep the state at the forefront of innovative programs to assist students and children.

“HOPE established Georgia as a leader in supporting students going to college and we need to celebrate that,” said Jennifer Lee, higher education policy analyst for the Atlanta-based Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. “We should look forward to what Georgia can do that we can celebrate 25 years from now.”

The anniversary — the first lottery tickets were sold on June 29, 1993 — comes about three months after the death of the man who spearheaded the lottery and HOPE, former governor and U.S. senator Zell Miller.

On Monday, a campaign began to encourage current and former HOPE recipients to give $25 to the Miller Foundation, which supports his legacy through programs that promote education, leadership and service.

The scholarship “empowered my family, and I am truly honored to contribute to this campaign in appreciation of Gov. Miller’s hard work for the future generations of Georgians,” said Kathleen Bennett, member of the 2018 Miller Leadership Academy Class and former HOPE recipient.

By The Numbers

$634.2 million - scholarship money awarded to students during fiscal year 2017

1.8 million - the number of HOPE scholarship recipients since the program began

1.6 million - the number of four-year-olds who’ve attended Georgia’s Pre-K Program

$1.8 billion - how much money has been spent on capital outlay, computer and technology programs in Georgia’s public schools

Sources: Georgia Lottery, Georgia Student Finance Commission