ATHENS, Ga. -- Student leaders at the University of Georgia may vote as soon as Tuesday night on a bold and controversial plan of their own to save the lottery-funded HOPE scholarships, a plan that may include support for Video Lottery Terminals to raise more money for HOPE.
The students are being proactive, taking the lead, reaching out to students at all of the state's other colleges and universities, considering any and all options to save HOPE -- hoping they can convince the legislature to be bold and act.
Over the past year students have watched as legislators have done little to help HOPE.
Lottery revenues are failing to keep up with the rising costs of higher education in Georgia.
And within two to three years, HOPE scholarships will pay for less than than half of tuition.
"And that's really frightening to a lot of students," said Sarah Beck, a UGA third-year student and the Director of External Affairs for the Student Government Association. "This is really an issue that can affect students for generations to come."
Tuesday night the UGA Student Senate will hear from a Gwinnett County developer, Dan O'Leary, who is planning a $1 Billion entertainment complex in Norcross that he hopes will include thousands of Video Lottery Terminals, which are similar in appearance to slot machines.
O'Leary projects the Video Lottery Terminals would raise $350 Million a year for HOPE scholarships.
Students will also hear from opponents of Video Lottery Terminals.
And then they may vote on a list of several HOPE recommendations -- including, possibly, calling on the state to allow merchants to install Video Lottery Terminals for the public's use. Students will then bring their proposals to the legislature for action.
"We will have a really, frank discussion about what everyone's viewpoint is on how we're going to move forward with the HOPE issue," said UGA Senior Helen Kalla, the Assistant Director of External Affairs for the Student Government Association. "The HOPE scholarship program is so unique to the state of Georgia, and it is something that we pride ourselves on, and we want to make sure that future students can enjoy HOPE just like we have."
"This is, clearly, something that's important to many students in the state of Georgia," said Austin Laufersweiler, a UGA third-year student and Chief of Staff for the Student Government Association. "We're hoping that the legislators are willing to listen to us. We are going to do our best to work with them, show them that this is something that's very important to students, and that we are going to do our best to fight for the students' best interests.... We want to make sure, in our attempt to be as informed as possible, to hear straight from the people who are doing this advocacy work" for and against VIdeo Lottery Terminals. "So we want to have a balanced approach in this, we want to hear from both sides of the Video Lottery Terminals debate. So we're excited to hear from him [O'Leary], and then we'll hear from opposition, as well."
"Students are really passionate about this issue," said Sarah Beck. "We're wanting to work with legislators, and perhaps find a compromise, to make HOPE scholarships work for all students."
Beck described the three resolutions that will be debated and, possibly, voted on, Tuesday night:
"The first one is whether to support Video Lottery Terminals to fund the HOPE scholarships. The second is one advocating for the current requirements for HOPE scholarships not to change. So we don't want to change the GPA requirement, we don't want to change the SAT requirement. And the last one is a new idea that we've had with other students from across the state. Basically, it's a HOPE reimbursement plan. So your first year, you won't receive the HOPE scholarship. What will happen is, after your first year, if you have that GPA requirement, then you'll be reimbursed that first year's tuition. Because based on research, we've found so many students lose their HOPE scholarships within their first year." As it is, the state pays the first-year's tuition of those students who end up failing to meet the requirements of the HOPE program.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has repeatedly said Video Lottery Terminals are too much like Las Vegas slot machines. As recently as last Thursday he said, again, "I do not support the casino-type concept. I don't think that is good for our state."
Student leaders at state campuses across Georgia have already met on conference call. They want to present a united front when they go to the State Capitol with a plan to save HOPE.