Buzz Around Oconee: Changes to HOPE and Pre-K

Local parents, educators and students are among those who tell Patch how they feel about the recent changes to Georgia's lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs.

When Gov. Nathan Deal took office, officials said that the HOPE Scholarship and statewide pre-K programs were facing a $300 million shortfall, as the expenditures for both programs had begun to outpace income from lottery funding due to increased numbers of students and tuition hikes. Starting in 2010, the program began to require funding from other sources of state revenue.  These programs were facing bankruptcy by 2012, officials said.

New legislation, called the 'Enduring Hope' legislation, was signed into law in March after cooperation, talks, and negotiations from both parties.

New criteria now includes raised standards for HOPE, such as earning a 3.7 GPA and 1200 on  the SAT in order to receive full HOPE funding.

Starting this fall, students will receive 90 percent of current tuition rates, meaning their awards will not cover double-digit hikes expected at some campuses.

For pre-K,  it means the amount of class days each year will be shortened from 180 to 160 days and class size caps will increase by two students to 22 each to help accommodate the approximately 9,000 children on waiting lists for the program.  Officials estimate these cuts will reduce pre-K spending by $54 million.

We asked some locals for their thoughts about the changes.

"I am more concerned about the rigor requirements.  I can see students opting out of honors classes to keep the 3.7 GPA." 

--Sheila Beckham, principal

"It looks like approximately 20 percent would qualify for the full scholarship according to the impact study conducted at one of our county schools.    Hopefully, students will continue to challenge themselves with tougher courses, but I'm sure parents and students will be mindful of that 3.7 GPA requirement for the full HOPE scholarship and will monitor their GPA throughout their high school career."

--Dr. John Jackson,

"We at Gainesville State College are not sure how the new HOPE scholarship will affect us.  We know that it will cost HOPE scholars more to attend college no matter where they attend.  One of the greatest impacts of the changes is that student will have to pay all their fees and books.  This affects all students, even those with a 3.7 GPA who will have their tuition completely covered by HOPE.  GSC has intentionally kept its fee structure at a moderate level, the lowest of the public colleges in northeast Georgia.  If parents and students consider all their options, we are hoping they will consider GSC because even with low tuition and fees, we provide exceptional education for our students.”

-- Dr. Martha T. Nesbitt, president

"We didn’t send our girls to lottery funded pre-k. My husband and I both feel that those funds should be used for underprivileged children that have little or no preschool experience prior to kindergarten.  And, sadly enough, the number of those children is growing dramatically because of the issues with economy. However, I am a firm believer in the program and think that it is a wonderful opportunity for children to get that “boost” before entering full day kindergarten.   I know that for many lottery funded pre-k is a huge childcare burden lifted from them I am glad that the program has been saved.

"As for HOPE, my two sisters and I all agree that we are so grateful to have reaped the benefit of that gift…and it certainly helped ease the burden of paying for our undergraduate education….so that is another reason why I am glad that measures were taken to save this valuable program."

-- Kelli Powell,  Oconee mom and educator

"I'm a parent facing the impact times three in college. I think it is appropriate to have a balanced budget all the time. Sustainability is important. Georgia is one of the few states with a AAA (bond) rating. I don't think everyone gets how important that distinction is. It's a very tough financial time. Personally, we are all making tough decisions and sacrifices. It is no different for the state. The fact the plan doesn't include grandfathering in the current students is telling of the seriousness of the shortfall."

-- Jo Keane,  Athens mom and banking professional

"A 3.0 (grade point) average to qualify has been incredibly generous in the past and I don't think raising the standards to qualify is a negative; it gives students something to strive for!  I will also have 3 in college at once, so planning the program for long term sustainability is very important to me. Attending college tuition- free is a  privilege, not a right, and many states don't have anything as generous as HOPE."

-- Christine Mills, Oconee mom and interior designer

"I have a freshman at UGA right now, and a first grader who attended state-funded Pre-K in Oconee County two years ago. I am fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom, but that would NOT have been possible if we had had to pay for pre-k then and full college tuition now.  Raising the GPA requirements for HOPE eligibility is certainly a fair way to reduce the number of recipients, and will hopefully keep the program afloat. The new guidelines might also be the motivation some students (and parents) need to achieve and/or maintain good grades. We are so grateful for both HOPE and pre-k funding!"

-- Kim Grier Tompkins, Oconee mom

"Universal pre-k has made huge strides in Georgia during the last 15 years.  It was disappointing to see the initial plans for cutting the budget which included half days and larger pay-cuts for teachers.  I am glad that Gov. Deal took feedback from pre-k providers, teachers and families into consideration and worked out an alternative plan for meeting the budget cuts.  The new proposed cuts are much more feasible for families and providers.  If Bright From the Start allows programs to have flexibility, it is possible for some programs to adjust their calendars and finances to possibly be able to provide the extra 20 days of anticipated cuts or at least not have to cut the entire 20.  Oconee Preschool Academy's goal is to maintain our program as we have in the past with as little interruption to the children as possible.   Georgia Pre-K provides such an important foundation for children before attending kindergarten.  It is important that educators and families voice their opinions for children!"

-- Nikki Wright/Director,

"I see several issues with the changes in the HOPE Scholarship and education in general.  I currently volunteer at an elementary school in a fourth grade classroom.  Before I started volunteering, I had no idea how hard a teacher's job was; there are not enough hours in the day to be given to teachers to teach the amount of material they have to give out.  One thing I have realized is that just ONE teacher is not enough, you need at least two people in the classroom to help manage all of the children.  Not to mention there are over twenty students in the classroom and not one of them learns at the same pace.  The teacher I help has me manage part of the class while they work on classwork and she takes a group of the children who need extra attention in learning to the back of the room  to work in small groups.  This is not possible for her to do without me because otherwise she constantly has to tell the other part of the class to keep quiet which takes time away from her small group efforts.  

"I also see several problems with the HOPE scholarship changes.  Being a student who has received HOPE awards before while keeping above a 3.0 average,  I find it very difficult to maintain a GPA higher than that considering I have to work, volunteer and manage other life obstacles.  Being a college student is hard enough, and to make the GPA requirements harder would be torture.  Almost every college student these days has to work.   Most have to work at least 20 hours a week which leaves little time for studying and school.  Plus if the "average" GPA starts to be a 3.7 what will you have to have to get in to most degree programs? A 4.0? Making the requirements more difficult will also throw some students out of college because for some people the only reason they are even able to go to college is because of the HOPE Scholarship.  All in all, I do not think that either of these changes are a good thing." 

-- Samantha Latimer, GSC student and teaching volunteer


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