Photo by Ben Keyserling

According to the Georgia Office of Planning and Budget (OPB), increase in revenue from the Georgia Lottery will be used to increase the amounts awarded for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) scholarships and grants by three percent.

In estimates from the Governor’s Budget Report released earlier last week, Georgia Lottery revenues increased to $910,819,213 from $866,365,210, which is approximately a $44 million and five percent increase from the previous year. The lottery grossed $3.8 billion in the most recent fiscal year, up from $3.6 billion in the previous year. The recent approval of online purchases of tickets by lottery officials may have contributed to this increase.

According to state law, a change in the Georgia Lottery revenues must correspond to a similar change in the expenditures on HOPE awards and the state’s Pre-K program, “Bright from the Start.” This means that when revenue from the lottery increases, spending on these programs also increases. Conversely, when the lottery revenue fund decreases, it must be recovered by cuts in these programs.

“There will be no surplus or deficit [from the lottery funds],” said David Lakly, Director of Education Division of OPB. “All projected lottery revenue in FY 2014 will be spent on HOPE and Pre-K programs.”

“…not all line items of the HOPE fund are recommended to increase…”

Although the award amounts for HOPE scholarships are expected to increase, not all line items of the HOPE fund are recommended to increase. The total budgetary amount of the HOPE scholarship is anticipated to increase from $408,235,018 to $424,345,076, an increase of approximately $16 million, while the amount under that sum attributed to the Zell Miller Scholarships will decrease by approximately one million dollars. Additionally, the HOPE scholarship budget for private schools, separate from the budget for public schools, decreased by approximately seven million dollars – yet, the three percent increase remained.

The Governor’s office and the OPB feel confident that the current lottery funding, in conjunction with the recent changes in the HOPE scholarship, which has doled out $6.7 billion and given awards to 1.8 million students since its inception in 1993, will keep HOPE financially secure.

“Based on our projections, the programs are on solid financial ground for years to come,” Lakly said. “HOPE reform legislation already passed has safeguarded the long-term sustainability of the program.”

Changes in the HOPE scholarship two years ago have left many students worried about paying for school. On Mar. 15, 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill that kept full tuition for the highest achieving students under the new Zell Miller Scholarship, and reduced the HOPE scholarship to 90 percent of tuition, adjustable each year to balance the lottery revenues and expenditures.

Concerns over the future funding of HOPE led to Student Body President Eran Mordel to vote in support of casino gambling “for the purposes of supporting higher education, specifically the HOPE scholarship,” in a non-binding vote at conference call of the Student Advisory Council, an inter-university council of Student Government representatives.

Other student governments at universities across the state have passed resolutions in support of measures to increase revenues to pay for HOPE. The University of Georgia Student Government Association passed one resolution supporting using Video Lottery Terminals to generate additional money to support scholarships.

The release of the Governor’s Budget Report represents the first step in the state’s budgetary process. After the release of the Governor’s report, the Georgia House of Representatives reviews the budget, amends it and sends it to the Senate. The Senate conducts its own review and passes its own amendments. The differences between the versions are resolved in a conference committee, and after final legislative approval, the finished budget is sent to the Governor for his signature.

As over 200,000 Georgia students receive money from the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships, discussions about the scholarship’s funding are unlikely to cease. But for next year at least, recipients will have a little more money in their pockets.