Atlanta Forward / Another View: Alternative plan can keep HOPE’s promise

The HOPE scholarship as we know it is under attack. For almost two decades, Georgia has ensured that our best students could attend college for no charge. That is all about to change.

The governor’s proposal, which passed the House last week and will be voted on in the Senate this week, will break HOPE’s promise and no longer fund full tuition. Instead, the amount of the scholarship will change every year based on lottery revenue.

The cost to students will likely rise every year. If tuition and lottery revenues maintain current trajectories, in 10 years HOPE could fund less than half of tuition. The governor’s proposal also cuts the pre-k program to a half-day. Early learning provides the best return on state education dollars. Changing to a half-day will be disastrous for students and families.

To be clear, we must do something: HOPE cannot pay for itself under the current system. A group of senators has proposed the Restore HOPE Plan. It achieves the same savings as Gov. Deal’s proposal while maximizing the number of students who receive the full HOPE scholarship and it restores pre-k.

This plan incorporates some of the governor’s ideas, like eliminating payments for books and fees, but there are substantial differences. Restore HOPE would keep the full scholarship for all Georgians with an annual family income up to $140,000. This covers 94 percent of all Georgia families.

Restore HOPE provides that the eligible income would be adjusted every year based on lottery revenues to maximize the number of students who receive HOPE. Families who do not qualify would be eligible for a low-interest loan to cover tuition, and most would receive a federal $2,500 tax credit. The low-interest loan would be forgiven if a student agrees to teach science or math in public schools after graduating.

Restore HOPE also expands the proposed Zell Miller Scholarship. Every student who finishes in the top 3 percent of his or her high school class would receive full tuition, as well as payments for books and fees.

Our plan would restore funding for full-day pre-k through a percentage increase in lottery revenues paid into the education account. This change would bring Georgia in line with similarly sized state lotteries.

The choice is clear: We can preserve HOPE for the greatest number of students possible or we can break HOPE’s promise.

Sen. Jason Carter is a Democrat, representing DeKalb County.