By Stan Washington, Special to the NNPA from The Atlanta Voice –
A coalition of civil rights organizations and community groups are still considering their options – including a boycott of the Georgia Lottery in response to the recent changes in the HOPE Scholarship program, according to a coalition member.
"There were many options that were put on the table, a boycott of the lottery was one of them," said Rev. Dr. Richard Cobble, president of the Concerned Black Clergy (CBC). "We are still examining them all at this time."
Other than the boycott, Cobble would not say what were the other options are being considered.
"We haven't publicized those options until we can agree on them and present a unified front," he said.
The threat of a possible boycott came from state NAACP President Edward DuBose after Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 calling for sweeping changes in the HOPE program. The bill, fast-tracked through the General Assembly, contained tough new requirements to receive the HOPE Scholarship, which is funded by the lottery.
The landmark changes, which go into effect this fall, include:
* Only so-called Zell Miller scholars – valedictorians, salutatorians, and students who graduate with at least a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT score or 26 ACT score – will get all tuition covered at public colleges in Georgia.
* Students who graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA will receive HOPE dollars, but the amount will vary from year to year, depending on lottery proceeds.
* The amount for students who qualify and are attending private colleges in Georgia will see their scholarship drop from $4,000 to $3,600. The Zell Miller Scholars will receive the full $4,000.
* Funding for books, fees, and remedial courses is being eliminated.
Critics say the changes will hurt mostly poor, rural, and minority students who attend school systems that are not as well funded as the metro Atlanta suburban school districts.
"It is mainly the poor who play the lottery that funds the HOPE program," Cobble said, "and those changes will hurt them the most."
Clark Atlanta University Provost Dr. Joseph Silver said he understands why the state needs to keep the HOPE program solvent, but doesn't understand efforts to balance the program "on the backs of the very students who need it."
"The data shows that the upper income families do not support the lottery, but it is the lower income people who do and now they will not be among the benefactors of it," Silver said.
"The upper income families have many other options of finding funding for their children to go to college," he added.
Even under the original guidelines, retaining students has become tougher during the recession for four-year institutions like Clark Atlanta, where 90 percent of their students are on some form of financial aid, Silver said.
"Most of our students who leave our institution leave due to financial reasons and not academic ones," he said. "This will put an extra burden on them to find the resources to replace HOPE funds."
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