Rising HOPE costs trigger cuts to book allowance

HOPE recipients could see their scholarship funds diminish starting next year. State officials predict that in the 2010 fiscal year, beginning this July, the costs of Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program will begin to eclipse its allocated funding. If this happens, a 2004 law will kick in causing the state to cut the HOPE book stipend in half.

If the revenue continues to fall short in the second year, the next step would be to cut the stipend completely, and then if the revenue were short for a third year in a row, the fee allowance would be cut.

“I thought [the book stipend] was too little to begin with anyway, because it was only $150…. I wouldn’t say I depend on it, since it can only buy one or two books, but it was nice to have,” said Christina Pinto, second-year CE major. Many students also echoed her perspective. “I mean, it’s not great that they are taking it away, but it was only $150 to begin with. You can only do so much with it,” said Andy Guice, fourth-year ISyE major.

Georgia currently has one of the most successful lottery programs in the nation, and the revenue goes to fund educational programs like HOPE. The reserves from the lottery for HOPE and corresponding pre-kindergarten programs are currently at about $960 million, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While HOPE is not at risk of failing, the growing costs to the HOPE program are greatly out-pacing the current revenue. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is projecting a $55.8 million increase in HOPE and pre-kindergarten costs from the 2008 fiscal year. During the first half of this fiscal year, the lottery provided less than $4 million more to the state than it did during the same period in 2008.

HOPE currently has 200,000 recipients, and as more people are choosing to go back to college and to technical schools, this number grows each year. Similarly, rising costs of tuition to try to keep up with state budget cuts increase costs to the program each year.

The current law states that the diminished book allowance is triggered by even $1 of shortfall. The House is debating a new law that would make the book allowance cut only start if the lottery revenue fell substantially lower than the program costs. A similar bill was passed last year, but it was vetoed by Perdue.

Some say that a new law alone won’t be able to prevent cuts to HOPE. The current recession makes it hard for lottery sales to grow. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Margaret DeFrancisco, chief executive officer of the Georgia Lottery told lawmakers that while lottery sales continue to inch up even as the recession intensifies, it’s getting harder every year to raise more money. During the first quarter of the 2009 fiscal year, most of the 43 lotteries in the country saw sales drop or remain flat.

Marie Mons, director of Student Financial Planning and Services, assures students that the Office of Financial Aid will help students deal with losing the book stipend if that day ever comes. “Many of our HOPE recipients are receiving aid from HOPE only and have not considered what other options for financial aid are out there. We always think that students should investigate all their options,” Mons said.

Some of those options would come from the FAFSA, but Mons encourages most HOPE students to consider private aid. “Since HOPE students already have a 3.0 at a reputable school, they are well qualified for aid.”

The belief is that this possible cut in the HOPE will never affect students. Currently legislation is in process to avoid that day. “After all, what politician wants to be the bearer of that bad news that HOPE is going to be cut?… No one foresees a drastic reduction in HOPE coming anytime soon,” Mons said.