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Smyrna State Rep Listens to Citizens' HOPE Program Concerns

After kicking off their HOPE program listening tour on Monday night, the state Dems have partnered with Republicans to support Gov. Deal's proposed HOPE program changes.

Democratic lawmakers are partnering with Republican leadership today to support changes to the HOPE scholarship program, after being encouraged by input received from their first HOPE scholarship listening tour stop on Monday night at Southern Polytechnic University in Marietta.

Georgia State Representatives, Stacey Evans, who represents Smyrna, and Alisha Morgan and David Wilkerson, who represent Austell, answered questions, and asked a few of their own, from about 50 educators, students and community members at the first stop on the listening tour.

In order to cut costs for the programs, Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed cuts to the HOPE and Pre-K programs, which are primarily funded by the Georgia Lottery. According to information presented to the legislature this week, HOPE will suffer a $243 million shortfall this year and is set to run through its reserves in three years or less.

Some of his proposals include paying about 90 percent of tuition instead of 100 percent, cutting Pre-K school days by two and a half hours and capping the bonuses of Georgia lottery employees.

Currently the program offers full tuition, as well as some book costs and other fees, for students who had a B average in high school and maintain at least a 3.0 average in college. Deal said to the Associated Press that the proposed changes would preserve the program “at least for another generation.”

Morgan said there are two camps of thought on the purpose of the HOPE scholarship program: one camp believes that the program is to help “students who wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity” and the other camp believes it’s a way “to keep the best and brightest here…Now 75 percent stay here.”

Evans said that she does not believe “that the two are mutually exclusive.” The best and brightest can be found in homes from all socioeconomic levels, Evans explained. “I hear that a lot, that it’s this or that, and I just reject that.”

Morgan also wondered aloud about focusing funds on areas that have the most need in the state. For instance, if there was a shortage of science teachers, then students who are going to school for that purpose would receive more funding.

The majority of the people who showed up Monday agreed that cuts to Pre-K programs could prove detrimental in the long run.

Morgan said there is no current GPA requirement to receive a HOPE grant, which is different from a HOPE scholarship. However, she explained that she does not particularly think there should be one.

“If you make it too difficult, then you perhaps cut off access,” Morgan said. “I’m not ready to say, ‘let’s cut it out’ or ‘let’s limit access.’ ”

Wilkerson pointed out that there are many businesses that depend on graduates from technical schools to continue operations and provide professional services.

Many of the forum’s attendees were students, such as Eric Monroe, who works at the Southern Poly student radio station. He proposed having HOPE recipients who do not finish college pay back their funds.

The state representatives did not agree that paying back funds would be the solution. Wilkerson said to Patch, “It’s a reward for what you’ve already done and encouragement to continue…If you’ve been hired for a job and you get fired after one month, you don’t have to pay back your salary.”

Monroe later suggested a statewide SPLOST, and the representative said they didn’t think there was “an appetite” for that.

Evans said she was a HOPE recipient and her parents were unable to contribute anything to help with tuition or other college costs.

“I’m so glad to see students here, and I know they can attest to that,” Evans said. “It’s not just the tuition bill. It’s bigger than that.”

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