The Georgia Republican Party is out with a new robo-call attacking Jason Carter on his so-called plan to “kill HOPE scholarships.”
You can listen to the full audio below, courtesy of the Jason Carter campaign.
It’s an emotionally charged attack, but it deserves a little historical perspective.
When Democratic Governor Zell Miller originally proposed the HOPE scholarship over two decades ago, he intended to help low-income students afford a college education. In fact, HOPE originally had an income cap of $66,000. But that cap was later increased to $100,000 and then eliminated altogether in 1994.
Gradually, HOPE allowed more and more Georgia students to afford college and even had the effect of making our universities more academically competitive as more Georgians competed for spots in our university system.
But when the recession hit, lottery funds and state revenues fell dramatically, putting the HOPE scholarship in serious jeopardy. Upon seeing the numbers, the legislature at the time debated how best to protect Zell Miller’s famous scholarship for Georgia’s students.
Some wanted to remain true to the original intent of the scholarship and reinstate income eligibility requirements that would preserve the full scholarship for low-income students. But others worried about the effect of brain drain and wanted, instead, to preserve the scholarship only for the highest-performing students.
In the end, advocates for low-income Georgians lost out. In 2011, Governor Deal passed a HOPE reform bill that raised the GPA requirement for HOPE from 2.0 to 3.0, lowered the amount of tuition covered from 100% to less than 90%, and cut funding altogether for books and school fees.
Particularly gifted students, however, would qualify for the “Zell Miller Scholarship,” which required a 3.7 GPA in high school, a 1200 on the SAT (CR+M), or a 26 on the ACT. If they maintained at least a 3.3 GPA in college, they would receive enough HOPE to pay for 100% of tuition costs at a public institution or $2000/semester at a private institution.
Nevertheless, the HOPE scholarship, at least in some capacity, would endure. And, in fact, the Georgia College Republicans even praised the Governor on the issue, calling Deal’s decision to make cuts and preserve the long-term health of the scholarship an act of “political courage.”
Those reforms hurt a lot of families, but nowhere was the crisis more evident than in Georgia’s technical colleges, which lost nearly 25% of their students due to cuts in HOPE. And after a collective outcry from colleges, parents, students, and a bipartisan coalition of state legislators, Gov. Deal finally agreed to a patch by signing a bill pushed by Rep. Stacey Evans and Sen. Jason Carter that lowered the GPA requirements back to 2.0.
But the current HOPE scholarship has still wholly departed from its original purpose and now allows a student from an extraordinarily wealthy family to receive the exact same grant as a student from a working class family. And it is against that backdrop that Jason Carter has floated the idea of restoring the full HOPE scholarship by looking at income eligibility standards.
Taking that approach would mean that yes, some wealthy families would likely see lower HOPE grants. And those cuts will surely hurt those families. But in return, low- and middle-class families would actually see their grants rise, perhaps even to pre-reform levels.
But if you’re worried about what you hear from that GOP-funded robo-call, let’s be clear about one thing: Both Nathan Deal and Jason Carter want to keep the HOPE scholarship. They just have very different ideas about how to go about it.