HOPE, Despair

The state of Georgia still hasn’t figured out a way to fund its struggling HOPE Scholarship, its decade-old program guaranteeing essentially free tuition to Georgia high school students with a B-average or better to stay in state for college. Georgia’s having trouble paying for it.

According to an article by Kim Severson in the New York Times:

When it was begun in 1993, the program was covered easily by Georgia’s state lottery. Politicians enjoyed how happy it made middle-class constituents. Educators praised the way it improved SAT scores and lifted Georgia from the backwaters of higher education. It was considered so innovative that 15 states copied it. And while the lottery-based scholarship programs in states like Tennessee are dipping into reserves to cover the costs, none have fiscal woes as big as Georgia’s.

Lottery sales, which by law can pay for only the Hope scholarship and a free prekindergarten program, will be short $243 million this fiscal year and as much as $317 million the next, according to state budget estimates. Last year, lawmakers had to pull millions of dollars from the state’s reserve fund just to cover the cost. But this year, there is nowhere to turn.

Well I’m not sure there’s really nowhere to turn, but there’s certainly nowhere the state can extract money without encountering serious problems. Georgia now has a budget deficit of $2 billion. And the lottery isn’t going to fix that problem.

State politicians are now trying to find ways to reduce the cost of the program. Most likely this with come from reducing either the amount the state helps students out or the number of students who qualify for the scholarship.

As the Severson article explains: “‘We trust and we hope the people in the state of Georgia understand the position we’re in,’ said State Representative Len Walker, a Republican who leads the House Higher Education Committee.”

Well yes, but Walker should perhaps consider the position that Georgia is going to be in if it makes it more difficult for its students to attend college. The lottery was always a bad way to fund this scholarship. Find a better way to pay for it.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer