State officials are asking for about a $135 million boost for scholarship programs over the next year and a half with expectations of a huge class of students earning HOPE scholarships and other awards.
The largest chunk of the extra money would go for lottery funded programs like HOPE scholarships at public colleges and universities. The Student Finance Commission is asking Gov. Nathan Deal to include about $90 million more for HOPE and the Zell Miller scholarship, which covers the full tuition for top students, in his mid-year and fiscal 2017 budgets.
Many of the Zell Miller scholars attend the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, and the Board of Regents increased tuition at those schools 9 percent this year. That, in turn, increases the cost of each Zell Miller scholarship.
According to Office of Planning and Budget records, the commission is asking for about a 12.7 percent increase in HOPE and Zell Miller spending in fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.
Those programs are funded by the state lottery, and ticket sales, while growing, have struggled to match the need of the scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs they fund. The lottery had another record sales year last year, but the $35.4 million increase in transfers to education programs during 2015 is less than HOPE alone will likely increase next year.
Deal told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently that he planned to dig into lottery reserves to put an extra $50 million into pre-kindergarten programs next year.
There is also expected to be a heated and heavily lobbied debate during next year’s General Assembly session over whether to legalize casino gambling, with at least some of the proceeds going to prop up the HOPE scholarship.
The commission’s recommendations will be considered by Deal as he prepares his budget plans for the upcoming year and a half. He is expected to release his budget plan in January.