HOPE at 20: Seven voices weigh in

As Georgia’s HOPE scholarship turns 20 this month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked seven Georgians to weigh in on what is widely lauded as one of the nation’s most successful academic programs.

HOPE is intertwined with the creation of the Georgia Lottery, which also turned 20 in June. Both were launched in 1993 by Gov. Zell Miller. The lottery has pumped billions of dollars into HOPE and the state’s free pre-k programs.

Now all eyes are on the future.

Nathan Deal is Georgia’s governor.

Our state bears a fundamental responsibility to prepare our children to be college- and work-ready in a global economy. Not only do we owe this duty to each child in our care, but we also know that education is our No. 1 economic development tool.

In 1992, Georgia created the lottery to enhance educational funding. Since then, it has raised more than $14.3 billion for educational programs — far exceeding expectations. Georgia’s lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and pre-k programs are among the most generous state educational benefits in the nation.

The lottery has helped 1.5 million Georgia students afford college through our HOPE scholarship program, keeping the best and brightest in Georgia. Employers looking to expand or relocate here know they will have access to a skilled workforce.

More than 1.2 million 4-year-olds have attended free preschool by means of lottery funds. Our nationally recognized pre-k programs ensure Georgia’s youngest scholars are on pace, laying the groundwork for their future academic and career endeavors.

Over the years, Georgia lottery retailers have earned more than $3.4 billion in commissions and players have won close to $30 billion in prizes — dollars reinvested back into Georgia’s economy.

The lottery plays an essential role in the economic vitality of our state. We have one of the most profitable lotteries in the world, and are on pace for a record year under the capable leadership of president and CEO Debbie Alford.

I feel confident that this track record of success will continue and that present and future Georgia leaders will take responsible actions to preserve the program for future generations. As demand for HOPE and pre-k grows, the lottery will continue expanding services and leveraging new technologies to drive more dollars into these programs.

I congratulate and thank the Georgia Lottery for 20 years of helping educate and retain talented Georgians.

Hank Huckaby is chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Ron Jackson is commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia.

In January of 1989, then-Lieutenant Gov. Zell Miller announced he supported establishing a state lottery to fund innovative education programs. His vision was that lottery programs would offer Georgia families opportunities they would not otherwise have.

As governor, Miller’s goal was to improve Georgia’s workforce, declaring in his first Inaugural Address, “Our survival and success in the new economy will be determined not only by the productivity of our land, but by the productivity of our people…” Miller later summed up his dream for HOPE this way: “I want us to establish in this state a culture of higher expectations. I want the question to be not ‘whether’ to go to college, but ‘where’ to go to college or technical school.”

By any measure, Georgia’s lottery has been wildly successful. Since 1993, the lottery has distributed $6.8 billion in HOPE awards to nearly 1.5 million students attending Georgia’s colleges, universities and technical colleges.

Enrollment in Georgia’s technical colleges has tripled since 1993, while the percentage of Georgians with a bachelor’s degree or higher has climbed from 25.7 percent to 37.4 percent.

While not all of these gains are the result of HOPE, clearly tens of thousands of Georgians expanded their education and, hence, their standard of living, because of HOPE.

Perhaps the best way to sum up HOPE’s impact is to let one of its recipients speak.

Marshall Mosher, a HOPE Scholar, said of the program: “The HOPE scholarship has made it possible for me as well as thousands of incredible Georgia students to realize our potential and pursue the impossible dreams that may now have the momentum to change the world. It is investment that we know will bring a very bright future to our great state and nation.”

Our desire is that the next 20 years offer the same opportunities to succeed.

Graham Goldberg is a rising senior at Georgia Tech with a double major in business administration and public policy. He receives the full tuition Zell Miller Scholarship.

As a metro Atlanta native, I have quite literally grown up alongside HOPE. The scholarship was the reason I travelled down the road to Georgia Tech as a high school junior, and has given countless friends opportunities at colleges across the state they might not have otherwise had.

I was a Georgia Tech first-year when the HOPE Scholarship was saved by a freshman Governor and newly-elected General Assembly. Much of the legislative action taken was forward-thinking and warranted, but some changes flew in the face of the program’s initial vision of giving the lower- and middle-class a fighting chance in our state’s evolving workforce.

Limiting the more generous Zell Miller Scholarship to those who can ace the SAT and maintain a 3.7 GPA in high school tends to favor students who can already more easily afford college. For instance, 36.1 percent of Miller Scholars hail from Fulton, Gwinnett, and Cobb counties.

Additionally, when Miller scholars arrive on campus, they must maintain a 3.3 GPA – a harrowing feat here at Tech where a 3.0 earns you a spot on Dean’s List. When our state is in dire need of engineers and scientists, the last thing we should do is discourage students from challenging themselves in tougher majors.

Our state must not take for granted how far Georgia and our colleges have progressed since HOPE’s founding. Moving forward toward HOPE’s next twenty years, we must ensure that students from all backgrounds can still succeed in the state’s workforce and that we’re preparing students for the types of jobs Georgia needs.

Strengthening HOPE’s reach while reinvesting in our colleges following the economic downturn can give Georgia the same national attention it received in 1992 and, if done properly, will propel our population to new heights.

Chris Clark is president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Throughout Georgia’s history, we have been blessed with leaders whose vision has made a positive impact not only on our economy, but on our quality of life. One such example is most certainly former Governor Zell Miller, who conceived, fought for and ultimately oversaw the creation of the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and Bright from the Start pre-kindergarten programs — both of which have become invaluable resources for businesses and families throughout our state.

Nothing is more important to a business than being able to hire qualified employees, and few things are more important to today’s families than being able to find a job. Georgia’s nationally-recognized pre-k program gets children started on the path to a quality education from the earliest years. And HOPE college scholarships and HOPE technical college grants have provided the opportunity for hundreds and thousands of Georgians to get the skills and training needed to successfully enter the workforce. They have also become some of our state’s most effective economic development tools — ask any company why they have chosen Georgia in recent years and HOPE will always be on their list.

In years to come, the success of these programs will be even more important to our economy. Studies suggest that 60 percent of the jobs of the future will require some form of post-secondary education. Companies making expansion or location decisions are not only looking to see who they can hire today — but who they will be able to hire twenty and thirty years down the road. We must continue to focus on both excellence and opportunity at every stage of the education continuum to ensure that we are producing qualified graduates who are ready to be the employees of the future — and both HOPE and pre-k are critical to our ability to achieve that goal.

State Sen. Jason Carter is a Democrat who represents Decatur.

“If you want to invest in the economic future of this state and at the same time do something to help the forgotten average working family, this is it.” (Gov. Zell Miller, State of the State 1992)

With these words, Gov. Zell Miller announced the HOPE Scholarship as a revolutionary program, funded by the Georgia Lottery and designed to expand access to higher education for high-achieving students who otherwise couldn’t afford it. The original HOPE scholarships were limited to families that earned less than $66,000 a year.

When the lottery ran large surpluses, we expanded the scholarship to all Georgians regardless of need. But we never lost sight of the program’s purpose: ensuring that deserving students would not be foreclosed from college merely because they didn’t have the money. As a result, nearly 1.5 million students received HOPE, and our state’s public higher education became a model of access and performance.

But our state’s current leadership turned its back on this success. In 2011, when the lottery funds could no longer cover the cost of HOPE, they chose to destroy the HOPE scholarship as we know it.

HOPE no longer covers full tuition and provides no assistance with ever-increasing fees and other costs. Because the program ignores need, we are spending millions on our wealthiest students, while many high-achievers — especially in rural Georgia — are being left out of higher education entirely. From 2011 to 2012, 50,000 fewer students received some form of HOPE! Our economy needs more highly-educated students, not fewer. And as costs rise, the problem will get worse and worse.

Therefore, we should restore HOPE to its origins and consider each student’s need in addition to his or her academic achievement. The scholarship is limited by lottery revenues, so we can’t afford to pay for everyone. In that situation, it makes no policy sense to pay for people who don’t need it.

Considering need guarantees the largest possible impact on the lives of our students and the future of our economy. And it ensures that those “forgotten average working families” that Gov. Miller spoke of will not be forgotten again.

Alan Essig is executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

When I give my “Budget 101” presentation to civic and community groups, I conclude by recommending that the state spend the first dollar it collects on early childhood education.

Georgia can use the 20th anniversary of funding education with state lottery proceeds as an occasion to refocus the program in a way that helps the state build a workforce equipped for the demands of a modern economy. That calls for getting more children started earlier on a path to lifelong learning.

The research is conclusive: Investing in early childhood education is the most effective way to ensure success in high school and beyond.

If the state increases the one-third share of lottery money now spent on pre-k, it can improve the program’s quality and expand it enough to open classrooms to the 8,000 Georgia children on waiting lists.

A new approach is in order for higher education too. The state’s goal to have 250,000 new graduates from our universities and technical colleges by 2020 is very ambitious. To achieve it, Georgia needs to focus HOPE scholarships and grants on students who may not be able to complete school without financial aid. Lottery funds should go where we get the biggest education bang for the dollar, not just to keep the status quo.

Georgia in 2013 is a very different place than it was when state lottery tickets went on sale in June 1993. And the state will be changed again by 2033 when it’s time to reflect on the fortieth anniversary of the lottery. Georgia should fine tune the program to better fit the changing times and best prepare our children for a prosperous future.

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Comments edited for length.