Essig, Johnson: HOPE, pre-k need sustainable path
Understanding the realities of lottery funding in Georgia is as simple as a word problem in math class. Take a look:
Train A departs Hope City station at 70 miles per hour. Train B departs from the same station 30 minutes later going only 40 miles per hour. How long will it take for Train B to catch Train A?
Train B will never catch up with Train A, and as time goes on, Train B will fall farther and farther behind.
Now, let’s compare this to the situation facing Georgia’s prekindergarten program and the HOPE collegiate scholarship program. These two lottery-funded education programs cost a certain amount, but the lottery revenue that pays for them is falling short each year. Unless costs slow down, the value of these two programs will decline over time.
How the state responds to this reality will determine the fate of education in Georgia and have a tremendous impact on the state’s economy.
This is about more than preserving two education programs; it’s about creating jobs and ensuring a prosperous economic future for Georgia. With the loss of more than 350,000 jobs over the last several years, Georgia must position itself to once again be a leader in job growth, and having a strong education system is one of the best ways to do that. As Georgia works to build a workforce that can successfully compete for good-paying jobs, it must invest lottery dollars in a way that provides the greatest return.
Here’s what lawmakers should remember as they debate this issue:
Early education benefits our economy over the long term. We must begin by increasing investment in early education.
Every dollar spent on quality early education saves taxpayers up to $13 in future costs. We know that children are likely to struggle through elementary and high school if they enter kindergarten lacking the cognitive and social skills necessary for a lifetime of learning and development. We can make early education a true priority by increasing the lottery funds allocated to the pre-K program to 40 percent from 33 percent.
A highly trained workforce attracts business.
There’s no doubt that a well-trained workforce will help bring jobs to Georgia. Technical colleges play an important role in helping workers develop the skills that attract new businesses, but changes in the HOPE program undermine this effort. The Technical College System reports that 4,200 students lost their HOPE grants due to the new 3.0 grade-point average requirement. Decreasing the GPA requirement to 2.5 will increase the pool of trained workers and improve Georgia’s ability to attract jobs and grow the economy.
The HOPE scholarship program must help students who need it most.
To create the greatest economic impact with lottery dollars, HOPE scholarships must prioritize Georgia students who are least able to pay for college. The Georgia economy gains little when limited lottery dollars subsidize the tuition of students whose families can afford to pay for their college education. Placing an income cap of $100,000 on eligibility allows lottery funds to go to those who need it the most, while increasing Georgia’s educated workforce so we can attract new jobs to our state.
It is critical that we put lottery-funded education programs on a sustainable path, rather than allowing them to fall farther and farther behind. Reforming how we spend lottery dollars presents a unique opportunity to use investments in early education and higher education to build a workforce that can meet 21st-century business demands and attract good-paying jobs to Georgia.
Alan Essig is the executive director of Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Cedric Johnson is a policy analyst with the institute. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit organization engaged in research and education about the fiscal and economic health of the state of Georgia.