HOPE scholarship program is slated for a major revision after news of fiscal infeasibility and economic downturns sink in. HOPE, for the uninitiated is the monetary largesse, in guise of scholarships offered by the State of Georgia (not the Shevardnadze country) for college-bound students. The slogan was simple — Get a B-plus average in high school and attend college for free (in Georgia, of course), no fine print.
In a state riddled with paradoxes of inner-city poverty and crime co-existing with top universities like Georgia Tech and Georgia State, this opened up the doors of higher college education for the meritorious. Making education accessible to all has always been my secret fascination and HOPE seems like a wonderful dream come true for Georgians. HOPE not only exempts your tuition but also grants mandatory school fees and money for books. Now if you are wondering, where does the state get so much money to dole out?
Simple! Redistributive policy to the rescue, although it is often sold as an entitlement program. The state-run Georgia lottery, administered by Georgia Lottery Corporation (and tobacco companies’ compensation although a very small portion) contribute enough dough to make HOPE viable. Simple rules of microeconomics have always dictated that the surest way to generate revenue is to tax the addictions to hell; most popular choices always have been gambling and smoking. Raising taxes for cigarettes always keeps everyone happy, except the smokers who cannot protest even if they like to because the market behavior rationale doesn’t make sense to their addicted-to-tobacco senses. Addiction to gambling is not very different.
Some party-spoilers also make a valid claim that in fact, poor people are paying to send rich kids to school, which is true since the Georgia Lottery, a major HOPE contributor finds its primary customers amongst the low-income populace of Georgia. But facts speak for themselves, “over $1.4 billion has been distributed to almost 600,000 students through the HOPE Scholarship, making it the largest state-financed, merit-based aid program in the US”.
But trouble has been brewing for long now and HOPE proponents have been striving for stringent qualifications, imposing an additional SAT score of at least 900 as a primary requirement. Georgia has consistently ranked an abysmal 50th in the nation for SAT scores and this is bound to ruffle some feathers. Also decreased spending by lottery consumers has made the state rethink on spending for mandatory fees and books. But the rising cost of mandatory fees and books will certainly skew the socio-economic distribution of students. Georgia struggles hard to maintain its most popular education program while trying to balance its deficit-riddled budget.
The governor, Sonny Perdue has a tough task at hand — taking economic decisions or making normative choices. And we thought politics was boring.