published Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Deal outlines HOPE, pre-kindergarten overhaul

ATLANTA—Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing a sweeping overhaul of Georgia's lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten programs to keep the groundbreaking initiatives from going broke.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Deal said he would cut soaring costs by reducing HOPE awards, capping bonuses to lottery employees and trimming the amount retailers receive for selling tickets.

Created in 1993 by then-Gov. Zell Miller, the HOPE scholarship has sent more than 1 million Georgians to college and been imitated by more than a dozen states. But lottery proceeds have not kept pace with rising tuition and skyrocketing enrollment.

Deal, who took office in January, is set to announce the changes at a news conference this morning with Republican legislative leaders, who will need to usher it through the House and Senate.

About one-third of students in Georgia's public colleges receive HOPE, and the proposed changes would affect both them and future students starting this fall.

Deal's plan also would affect the state's youngest students by reducing pre-k to a half-day program—down from 61/2 hours a day to four. The change would allow him to add 5,000 more slots to continue to make the program—which has a waiting list of about 10,000 4-year-olds—available to as many as possible.

For years, HOPE has been tied to tuition, rising each time the state Board of Regents voted for an increase, but Deal's plan would separate the two and cut HOPE awards for students to about 90 percent of the current value. The plan would trim HOPE for students attending private colleges in Georgia from $4,000 to $3,600.

HOPE recipients no longer would have unlimited chances to win back the scholarship if their grades slip. Deal's proposal would give them just one opportunity. Nearly half of college freshmen who enter with HOPE lose the scholarship.

The program no longer would pay for books and fees, which can cost students hundreds of dollars annually.

Those receiving HOPE grants to attend technical colleges would for the first time need to keep a minimum grade point average once they've begun to take classes. Deal's plan would require a 3.0 to continue to receive the award—affecting about 30 percent of recipients, he said.

Retailers would see their take of winning tickets cut. They now receive up to 7 percent of winning tickets, which would be capped at 5 percent.

In past years, huge bonuses have nearly doubled the salaries of top lottery officials, but Deal's plan would cap those bonuses at 25 percent.

Deal said he also wants to funnel $10 million to a low-interest loan program for those who miss the minimum 3.0 grade point average needed to keep the scholarship. The loans would be subject to just 1 percent interest and would be forgiven for students who agree to teach science and math at public schools in Georgia.

By Shannon McCaffrey and Dorie Turner/AP

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