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Lottery a 20-year success
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Georgia’s Lottery has been a tremendous success, and sometimes those who would criticize ignore the very real positives that continue to make it unique. We have looked at other states’ scholarship programs and use of their lottery funds.

For example, it is easy to let slip key qualification words like “year” which means that the scholarship amount has to be divided by two or even three semesters if the student is in class all year. That semester amount in other states’ scholarships is sometimes puny compared to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship which is semester hour-based and allotted per semester with no yearly limit.

In fact, when you consider the total amount of lottery dollars going to education, $902.6 million in fiscal year 2014 is an incredible accomplishment. Just think if today someone said, we have $902 million dollars in new funds to spend, what a show-stopping announcement that would be.

In fact, most Hope Scholarships in other states’ appropriations from lotteries pale by comparison to Georgia’s. Tennessee appropriates about one-third of Georgia’s size at $323 million in FY12. In the same fiscal year, Kentucky’s total lottery sales were only $823 million and their education appropriation at $216 million was less than one-fourth of Georgia’s. South Carolina’s lottery proceeds were only one-third of Georgia’s in FY12 at $300.1 million.

Florida, a larger state with a larger lottery ($4.4 billion in sales), only appropriates $1.4 billion for all of its programs including class reduction and general school enhancement. Florida had a lottery prior to Georgia’s but had utilized the funds to supplant general education costs.  Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, pre-K program and the HOPE Grant for technical schools became the first use of lottery funds to truly add value to education.

We hear a lot about helping low-income students. Well, not a single low-income student in the state is excluded from the merit-based HOPE Scholarship. When you think about it, the only ones not getting HOPE, no matter what their income, are “C” or less students.

Another key difference in the use of Georgia’s Lottery dollars is the HOPE Grant, which pays a substantial portion of technical school certificate tuition. And this is merit-based as well, requiring a 2.0 GPA for satisfactory participation. Some of the high-cost programs such as truck driving and nursing, which are strategic occupations, were given new lottery budget funds this year to bring down the cost of tuition. A future column will examine Georgia’s HOPE Grant and Georgia’s unique technical training advantage.

To keep pace with demand, Georgia and other states have made changes to their original scholarship programs. Georgia has recently made some improvements on the HOPE Scholarship, including a 3 percent increase in award amounts for the 2013-14 school year and the return of a full 180-day pre-K year. Unlike South Carolina and Tennessee, Georgia has continued to ensure that part-time students are eligible for the HOPE Scholarship.

Maintaining for the future
Although Georgia has had to implement changes in recent years to ensure the sustainability for future students, the Zell Miller and HOPE scholarships continue to serve the state’s brightest students and to be available for their entire collegiate career, assuming eligibility requirements are met. Changes have been made over the past three years, such as the Student Access Loan Program, to aid additional students. Some $60 million has been put into this revolving loan program. The endurance of these programs in a financially sound way helps to ensure that HOPE will continue to be the longest-standing merit-based lottery-funded scholarship.

Next week: Georgia’s technical colleges and the HOPE Grant.

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