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Seeking HOPE in the future

We dealt with several difficult issues at the Capitol this week that will have a significant impact on our state. The biggest of these issues was how we continue with the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K funding.
Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, or HOPE, has been tremendously successful in sending more of Georgia students to college and technical training programs, and with keeping Georgia’s brightest students in the state for their post-secondary education. HOPE also provides funds for pre-k programs which help students to be better prepared for elementary school and beyond. However, lottery revenues that fund the program have lulled in the past few years. Meanwhile, more and more students are maintaining “B” averages and continuing to be eligible for HOPE funding. While I consider this a “good problem,” the hard truth is that if we keep funding HOPE the way we have been; there will not be a HOPE Scholarship Program for future Georgia students.
The good news is that we will still be able to fund a substantial portion of tuition costs for qualifying students. Under the current program, Georgia residents with a 3.0 GPA or better get full-tuition coverage, including books and fees. Under House Bill 326, the bill that outlines these proposed program changes, students with a 3.0 GPA will still receive 90 percent of 2011 tuition amounts. HB 326 also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will offer full tuition to students who graduate from high school with a 3.7 GPA or higher and receive at least a 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT.  Books, fees and remedial college classes, however, will no longer be covered.
HB 326 would also adjust pre-k from a six-hour daily instructional program to a four-hour instructional day. This bill provides for an additional 5,000 pre-k slots, and adds $8.7 million to increase quality in the program and for extended day slots for at-rist children. I would very much like to hear from you about these proposed changes to the pre-k program and hear your thoughts about how we can make the necessary changes to the program while still maintaining quality services for our youngest students.
On a related note, we passed House Bill 192 addressing K-12 public school funds. Since the state’s current funding formula has not been sufficiently updated since 1985, this legislation creates the State Education Finance Study Commission, which would research and evaluate the costs and resources needed to educate a child in Georgia today.  Their findings will be used to develop comprehensive funding reform that would allow the state to meet the modern needs of our elementary, middle, and high schools.
We also passed House Bill 92 this week. This legislation improves Georgia’s in person, no excuse, early voting law by implementing a standard, statewide, early voting start date. Under HB 92, advance voting in Georgia general elections would begin on the fourth Monday preceding a primary and general election and as soon as possible prior to a runoff.  The early voting period would then run through the Friday immediately prior to each election.  During that period, early voting locations would be open during normal business hours on weekdays.  Additionally, if the election includes a federal or state office, early voting locations would also be open on the second Saturday preceding an election from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. 
By implementing HB 92, the state would be able to better serve Georgia voters and also eliminate the unnecessary waste of funding unused early voting times. The change would also reduce voter confusion by allowing more time for residents to reach a fully informed decision before casting their vote. This change would not affect early voting by mail or absentee voting. All Georgia voters would still be able to mail their ballot up to 45 days early and request ballots up to 180 days prior to an election.
On a lighter note, I enjoyed Eggs ‘N Issues in Millen on Saturday. Thank you to Jenkins County for inviting me to talk about these and other difficult issues like immigration reform. I always appreciate your thoughts and concerns, and you may always reach me at the Capitol at 404-656-5099 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov

Jon Burns represents Screven County as part of his District 157 of the Georgia State House of Representatives.