The following is a guest post from Representative Stacey Evans (D- Smyrna). Evans is credited with crafting a bipartisan effort to increase access to HOPE Grants for technical colleges.
Yesterday Rep. Ed Lindsey posted his support for Governor Deal. Many chuckled at the lack of newsworthiness of a Republican legislator supporting a Republican governor. And no doubt there are chuckles as now a Democratic legislator tells you why she supports the Democratic nominee. But I want to share with you why—party and politics aside—Jason has demonstrated the character and leadership I think we’d all like to see in our State’s chief executive.
HOPE drives me. Growing up, my mother—usually single, oftentimes fleeing hardscrabble men—shuffled my brother and me from rental trailer to rental house and back again just this side of the Tennessee border. College tuition was unthinkable or at least unreachable for us. The promise of HOPE allowed me opportunities beyond the paneling that separated my room from my mom’s. So when cuts to HOPE reared as the first major issue on the 2011 General Assembly’s calendar, I shuttered. To think that 18-year-old me may have missed UGA had I graduated high school after Deal’s cuts was humbling—and horrifying. No games between the Hedges, no law review at UGA, no wedding at the Chapel.
Deal altered HOPE so that only those students with a 3.7 GPA and 1200 SAT score would qualify for full tuition (Zell Miller Scholars). That wouldn’t have included me (I had the GPA, but not the SAT score). Jason urged the Governor to reconsider, noting that these criteria would exclude numerous students, most in rural counties. He offered a counter to Deal’s proposal: award Zell Miller Scholarships to the top 3% of students in every Georgia high school. Deal refused. Eventually though, he cratered and permitted the top 2 individuals from each high school to receive full tuition under HOPE. This change would not have happened without Jason. Few know that. Without him, Deal would have gutted the lifeblood—and salvation—of countless rural kids yearning to be their family’s first college graduate, like myself. Jason pushed the idea for the good of the State, not his resume.
The pattern repeated in 2011. In that year, Deal inserted a GPA requirement into the HOPE Grant for the first time, which now precluded technical-college students from receiving full coverage. The year Deal’s cuts took effect, 40,000 students—comprising 25% of the technical- college enrollment—fled Georgia’s technical colleges (more would continue to leave in the years to come). The loss of these students hurt Georgia’s efforts to close the skills gap. Jason and I introduced parallel legislation to reverse the cuts to the HOPE Grant. We urged Governor Deal to support our cause. Not only did he refuse, he questioned its relevance. Only after leaders in the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans buoyed the legislation did the Governor pivot toward us. He however conditioned his support on a self-serving notion: Jason Carter would get no credit. Jason acquiesced. Again, Jason elevated the state’s interests over his own.
Governor Deal still refuses to acknowledge the problem his draconian cuts to HOPE engendered. He credits an economic upswing as the culprit behind the enrollment plunge in technical schools. But two mutually exclusive facts belie that argument. First, unemployment has spiked, not dipped—Georgia now ranks dead last in state unemployment rate. Second, the rate of students leaving our technical colleges exceeded the rate of job growth by 350%. If students were dropping out of school to accept jobs, as Deal asserts, the rate of unemployment would have plunged. Further, work that requires technical skills, like welding, remain vacant in overwhelming numbers.
I visited 5 technical colleges in Georgia and talked to people from many others when I was crafting legislation with Senator Carter on HOPE. Everyone uttered the same message: help was needed. Nobody at those schools—not TCSG leaders, not campus leaders, not instructors, not financial-aid officers, not students—urged us to cease our pleas in the General Assembly. No one told me that not to worry. Instead, and at every turn, I was told the problem was larger and more noxious than anticipated.
The now 45,000 students who fled our technical colleges since 2011 are real. The over 350,000 people who comprise the 7.9% unemployment rate are real. The over 130,000 vacant jobs that could be filled by qualified people are real. But as per Deal’s cuts, Georgia is woefully short on educational resources and job training. It’s a sad day when Georgia has to look to Florida for skilled labor. Yet that’s the reality.
We need a Governor who will stand up for these Georgians. And we deserve a leader who will elevate people over credit; solutions over politics; Georgia over Florida. We need Jason Carter.