Georgia's lottery falls short | Arkansas Blog

Georgia's lottery falls short

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A cautionary tale: Georgia's lottery is falling way short of funding the state's college scholarship program at existing levels and big cuts seem likely.

A majority of freshmen in Georgia have grades good enough to qualify for Hope, which covers tuition, some books and fees — but not housing costs — at any Georgia university or technical school.

And even though as many as two-thirds of Hope students let their college grades slip so much that they no longer qualify — “I’ve lost Hope,” they joke when it happens — Georgia still gives away more financial aid per student than any other state. Since the program started, 1.3 million Georgia students have received a total of $5.6 billion in educational support. The program offers as much as $6,000 a year for some students.

But the program has become so popular it cannot sustain itself. Lottery sales, which by law can pay for only the Hope scholarship and a free prekindergarten program, will be short $243 million this fiscal year and as much as $317 million the next, according to state budget estimates.

Last year, lawmakers had to pull millions of dollars from the state’s reserve fund just to cover the cost. But this year, there is nowhere to turn.

Love or hate the lottery here, the quickest way to cripple it as a scholarship tool is to place all manner of limits on sales and advertising, as religious opponents hope to do. It is already an open question if the first-year payouts, $5,000 a four-year colleges, can be sustained in Arkansas.

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