Legislation on HOPE moving forward

Published 5:18 pm Friday, March 4, 2011

Legislation shortening lottery-funded pre-kindergarten class time is moving forward in the General Assembly.

The legislation, which also changes various facets of the HOPE college scholarship program, passed the House of Representatives 152-22 and it passed a Senate committee this past week.

State Rep. Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, voted in favor of the legislation (HB 326). The full Senate is expected to vote on the legislation next week.

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Gov. Nathan Deal proposed the changes to the HOPE scholarship program and the Bright from the Start early childhood education program because of a projected shortfall of lottery proceeds. State officials said the programs have outgrown lottery revenues and will go broke by next year without changes. A predicted shortfall is more than $300 million for next year.

If passed as written, the legislation would cut in half to a four-hour day the time pre-kindergartners attend the Bright from the Start programs. However, with the cut in class time, the state proposes to serve an additional 5,000 children in fiscal year 2012.

Decatur County School Superintendent Fred Rayfield said one anticipated problem with the proposal is the school district would have to add a mid-day bus route. Rayfield said it could also present a day-care problem for parents.

Rayfield said they, of course, won’t act on these proposals until passed into law, but he did say they are running a lot of numbers and following reports on the proposed legislation.

The local school superintendent said Decatur County presently has 55 students in the Bright from the Start program at each of the district’s five elementary schools. He suggested a way to save money and make up for the lottery shortfall is perhaps to cut the number of students to 45 per school.

Also, each class, which has a maximum of 20 students, receives from $1,200 to $1,500 for supplies. Rayfield suggested that the money earmarked for supplies be cut, but the class time stay as a full day instead of cut in half.

As for the HOPE college scholarship program, the proposal will cover 90 percent of the current tuition levels. It will not cover expected tuition hikes, and students will lose money for books and fees.