Cobb’s Dems look to tackle eduction issues, health care

Democrats representing Cobb in the Georgia Legislature plan to tackle some unfinished business from last year’s session when the state’s lawmakers convene on Monday.

For instance, state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants to expand Georgia’s HOPE Grant to cover more of the costs of technical college, an issue she has been working on for the last few years.

Meanwhile, state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, wants to bring back a bill regarding college savings plans that failed to get out of the House last year and state Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta, plans to continue his work to improve health care in Georgia.

HOPE GRANT

Evans said Georgia’s HOPE Grant covers a percentage of tuition for technical college students based on the health of Georgia’s lottery funds, a percentage that typically hovers around 85 percent. As a result, there is a gap between what the grant pays and the tuition costs to students.

That gap can be as small as $300 dollars, Evans said, “which may not sound like a lot, but if you don’t have it, it might as well be $1 million. And the students in technical college tend to be more price sensitive.”

So, Evans plans to file a bill that allows the grant to cover full tuition for students that maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The most up-to-date cost of her proposed expansion of the grant program is $13.7 million, Evans said.

“It’s a big number for anybody, but relatively speaking in the grand scheme of things, the lottery put $1 billion into the education fund last year. So $13.7 (million) is not really that much when you think about the path to the middle class, the ability to help close the skills gap,” Evans said.

Closing the funding gap for technical college students will allow more of them to stay in school, Rhett said.

“There is a direct correlation between how much tuition is covered for technical (college) students and attendance,” Rhett said.

The cost to expand the grant would come solely from lottery money, Evans said, which is currently healthy. The state is required to hold 50 percent of the prior year’s payouts from the lottery fund in reserve, which is about $400 million.

“That’s sitting safe, covered up, can’t get to it. On top of that is another $480 million that we’re not required to hold that we are holding and we’re not spending. It’s money that people have paid to play the lottery thinking that they were supporting education and it’s just sitting there,” Evans said, adding, “I just use that as an example to say how healthy the lottery is, that we don’t need to worry about adding another $13 million on to what we’re spending because we have money. And I’m not saying we should just spend money because we have it, but this is a good investment that’s been proven to actually get people working, move people into the middle class, get them paying taxes. It’s a huge return on investment, and we don’t have to invest tax dollars up front. We just invest lottery dollars.”

Evans said expanding the HOPE Grant can also incentivize students on the fence on whether to attend a technical college or a four-year school to get a technical degree. About two-thirds of higher-ed students attend a four-year college and one-third attend technical colleges, Evans said.

“We actually need that to be flipped for the jobs that we know are coming in the next 10, 20 years,” she said.

COLLEGE SAVINGS PLANS

Last year, Wilkerson filed a bill that would have seen the state match contributions to college savings accounts, called 529 accounts, for lower income families. The bill made it out of committee, but not out of the House of Representatives.

Wilkerson’s bill had the state contributing two dollars for every dollar saved by families making up to $30,000 a year and a one-to-one match for families making up to $60,000 a year.

“It incentivizes people to start investing in their own education, and the state is a partner with you,” he said.

A challenge with college savings plans today is that contributions can be deducted from income taxes, but this tax credit primarily helps high-income families.

“So the majority of people that are investing in 529 plans are those that are making over $100,000, $150,000 a year,” Wilkerson said.

To try to get it passed, Wilkerson said he hopes to get Republicans on board to make his proposal a bipartisan notion.

HEALTH CARE

Rhett said his goals regarding health care in Georgia may have to be on hold due to the election of Donald Trump as president. Last year, Rhett said he sponsored a bill that took federal funds and purchased insurance for low-income Georgians and charged them a sliding premium of no more than 5 percent of their income.

Then, Trump was elected on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving state lawmakers unsure how to proceed on the issue.

“So right now, we’ve kind of got that on hold because we don’t know specifically what the new plan is going to be until they formulate that,” Rhett said.

Because Rhett’s plan relied on federal assistance and it’s unclear how much federal money for health care will be coming south until Congress and Trump make their changes to federal law, he’s flying blind in a sense.

Evans added that while health care is tricky because what the federal government makes a significant impact on what Georgia can do on the issue, something will likely have to be done.

“We are probably going to have to put off a solution (even though) we have a huge problem in Georgia,” Evans said. “We have a crisis in our hospitals, particularly in the rural areas, so regardless of what’s going on on the federal side and regardless of what’s going on with the Affordable Care Act, we have a problem in Georgia that we have to solve … We can’t really afford to wait too long because we’ve been building up a crisis for several years, partly because we didn’t expand Medicaid when we had the opportunity to.”

http://www.mdjonline.com/news/cobb-s-dems-look-to-tackle-eduction-issues-health-care/article_6d16f670-d453-11e6-9bcb-7773fac478cb.html

What are the odds gambling comes to the Peach State?

Lawmakers return to the Gold Dome on Monday for the start of the 2017 legislative session, and a proposal to bring casinos and other types of gambling to Georgia is expected to be one of the major issues they will deal with this year.

A proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed four casinos in Georgia — two in metro Atlanta and two elsewhere — stalled in the House last year, but state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who proposed the measure in 2016, has said he’ll bring it back.

And casino backers are expected to have a major presence in the Capitol this year: Lobbying records show at least 49 registrations on behalf of gambling companies.

Supporters of the bill say tax revenue from the casinos would be used to help fund education in the state and could spur economic development, but opponents say these benefits don’t outweigh the potential drawbacks.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-West Cobb, said the history of locations that have legalized gambling should serve as cautionary tales for Georgia.

“If it’s a good business model, then prove it by looking at Atlantic City,” Tippins said. “They’re on the verge of bankruptcy. They’re in social decay in the entire area around (what) was the hub of their gambling operation. There’s nothing about Atlantic City that I want to bring to the state of Georgia, economically, socially or otherwise.”

Other Cobb Republicans are also skeptical of the potential benefits. State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, called the proposal a “gimmick” that other states have tried without seeing a positive impact long-term.

“I think we’re called not to challenge this only on moral or ethical grounds, which I think many people have valid concerns about, but if you look at (it) purely economically, I believe it’s an economic development gimmick, and I think we’ve got to be better than this as a state,” Setzler said.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, said she generally supports bringing casinos to Georgia, but emphasized that she would only support such a proposal if the revenue was used specifically for needs-based aid for college-students.

“If we provide a significant portion of the funds to go toward needs-based aid, I personally am in favor generally of casino gambling with the caveat that the local area has to approve it, which is how the bill was written last session,” Evans said.

State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, took a similar stance on the issue.

“I haven’t committed one way or the other in supporting it, but it’s a non-starter if it doesn’t talk about a HOPE 2 or something where it’s needs-based,” Wilkerson said.

Evans said Georgia is one of the few states that don’t offer needs-based aid and that studies have shown that unexpected expenses for students — on average between $300 and $1,000 — are a major factor leading to students dropping out.

“It can be as little as a flat tire or a sickness that could throw you completely off course. … And when you leave, you don’t come back,” she said.

But Tippins said the lawmakers must look past the potential good they could do with the revenue from casinos and consider the potential social impacts.

“If you’re willing to do anything for money, my goodness, look at the doors that would be open,” Tippins said. “You could legalize and tax prostitution. You could legalize and tax narcotics. There may be a lot of cash flow coming in, but it’s very detrimental to the social fabric that I think all of us who have families and who are trying to leave legacies for our children and grandchildren, having a good place to live in Cobb County and the state of Georgia, it’d be ridiculous to vote to support that.”

Setzler said the economic benefits would be concentrated with those who own and operate the casino, and state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, said though the state has gambling in the form of a lottery, casinos would be a much different animal.

“I think that what folks need to remember is that the lottery is run by the state of Georgia,” Reeves said. “The casinos, while regulated by the state, would not be run by the state. And there’s a very big difference between those two things.”

Reeves also worried about the public relations blitz casino companies would launch to try to gain support from voters for a constitutional amendment.

“Hypothetically, if we did that then this would be on a ballot, and there would be a very intense advocacy campaign leading up to that ballot vote. And that industry would have an unlimited budget in … funding that narrative and presenting it as ‘This is how we save the education crisis in Georgia.’ Creating that narrative — it’s not a fair fight or a fair advocacy.”

But Evans said needs-based aid for college students should be a priority for lawmakers this year.

“We make an investment in a student the day they enter into a college campus or a technical college campus. And if they leave, we’ve lost all the money that we’ve invested. So we need to put some thought into support for needs-based aid, and the casino gambling is potentially one way to do that,” Evans said.

Wilkerson said some Republicans may have moral objections to the idea of casinos in Georgia, but the odds of it passing this year are better than a longshot.

“Since Republicans have taken control, things that you didn’t think would happen have happened. We have alcohol on Sundays. We have no smoking in restaurants. So there’s a lot of things that people would have thought never would have passed years ago. So I don’t think casino gambling is that far out of it. … I think it’s definitely got a chance,” he said.

http://www.mdjonline.com/news/what-are-the-odds-gambling-comes-to-the-peach-state/article_9e2893a2-d527-11e6-90d5-03862a8b6246.html

Georgia Representative Stacey Godfrey speaks to UGA law women

Georgia Rep. Stacey Godfrey Evans visited the University of Georgia on April 18 to address the Law School’s 34th Edith House lecture, an event created to commemorate the accomplishments of UGA School of Law’s first female graduate and co-valedictorian.

Evans recently donated $500,000 to the University of Georgia law school to create a scholarship for first generation college students in July of 2015. Evans said in her address that as a college student, she depended on the HOPE Scholarship and Pell Grant in order to pay for tuition and worked as a waitress to pay for housing and other expenses.

Rep. Evans earned a dual degree in economics and political science from UGA, and later graduated cum laude from the UGA School of Law. After graduating and becoming an attorney, Evans would go on to begin her own law firm as well as be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

As a Cobb County Democrat, Evans has authored and passed bipartisan legislation, which has expanded previous cuts to the HOPE Scholarship for technical college students.

At the Georgia Law School event, which was sponsored by the Women Law Students Association, Evans delivered a speech entitled, “The Voice of a Woman Lawyer: Why it Matters and How to Use it.”

Evans said she wanted to used her speech as an opportunity to speak directly to the female law school students in the room and provide them with her tips for success in the field.

“Obviously, there are really good men in this room too that I’m speaking too as well,” Evans said. “We need to work together to do this.”

Evans said gender inequality persists in the field of law, saying 39 percent of the Georgia’s lawyers are women. In addition, Evans said women comprise 19 percent of congressional seats in each house and that none of Georgia’s 14 House of Representative seats nor its two Senate seats are currently held by women.

“Women are still very underrepresented in leadership roles,” Evans said “This makes societal change difficult. There are more female lawyers today, but we also need to be leading lawyers.”

Evans lectured students on “ways to use the woman lawyer voice” and urged the women in the room to support and challenge their female peers.

“We have to be cheerleaders for each other. Please, let’s start encouraging each other to stop stressing out about the word balance … Don’t let the idea of balance stress you out,” she said.

At one point, Evans shared the reservations she had when she learned that she was pregnant several months after starting her own law firm. The temptation, Evans said, was to quit, but if she had, she would not be the success that she is today.

“It’s okay to be scared.” Evans said, “It’s okay to be overwhelmed and want to quit, just don’t.”

Evans also said women should not be afraid to take risks, whether it be by discussing a controversial topic or running for political office.

“You might not want to make hay on an issue because someone might call you a feminist” said Evans “Don’t shy away from discussing controversial topics.”

The representative shared how she had recorded an address about abortion to the House of Representatives hours before having her daughter, because she felt she had a unique voice and opinion on the issue.

At the end of her speech, Evans concluded by noting that many women do not run for political office because they have not been asked to do so. Consequently, Evans extended an invitation to all of the women in the audience.

“The woman lawyer voice helps not just women lawyers, but all women and in turn all families … Let’s speak loudly, with our women lawyer voices,” she said.

http://www.redandblack.com/athensnews/georgia-representative-stacey-godfrey-speaks-to-uga-law-women/article_7a43e670-064d-11e6-a95e-db286e4740ba.html

Georgia state Rep. Stacey Godfrey Evans to give UGA law school’s House Lecture

Athens, Ga. – Georgia state Rep. Stacey Godfrey Evans will present “The Voice of a Woman Lawyer: Why it Matters and How to Use it” at the University of Georgia School of Law’s 34th Edith House Lecture on April 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the school’s Hatton Lovejoy Courtroom. The event is free and open to the public.

Evans serves parts of Cobb County in the Georgia House of Representatives. First elected in 2010, she has successfully authored and passed legislation to restore cuts to the HOPE Grant program, which has allowed thousands of Georgians to pursue a higher education. In addition to her role as a state representative, she runs her own law firm, S.G. Evans Law, where she represents individuals and businesses in complex litigation.

Prior to starting her own firm, Evans began her legal career by practicing securities litigation at Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy, which later became Bryan Cave. She was also a small-business founder and owner as a partner at Wood, Hernacki & Evans, a litigation firm, where she focused on health care fraud and defamation cases.

Outside of her legal work, Evans serves as the chair of the board of directors for the Smyrna Public Safety Foundation and serves on the boards of Communities in Schools of Marietta/Cobb County, the Cobb Library Foundation and the Kennesaw State University Political Science Department Advisory Board.

Evans earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and political science and her law degree, cum laude, from UGA. While at Georgia Law, she was a member of the Georgia Law Review. She recently established the Stacey Godfrey Evans Scholarship, which will benefit first-generation college graduates attending Georgia Law.

The Edith House Lecture is sponsored by the Women Law Students Association in honor of one of the first female graduates of Georgia Law. House, a native of Winder, Georgia, was co-valedictorian of the law class of 1925, the first to graduate women.

http://law.uga.edu/news/47176

Evans Named James Magazine’s 2016 Legislator Of The Year

In politics the phrase “rising star” gets thrown around every time a young legislator wins a seat. When it comes to Smyrna’s Stacey Evans, though, it couldn’t be more merited. Since her election to the state House in 2010, the Democrat attorney has become an articulate voice and face of the party in Georgia. She is known for her ability to get deals done across the aisle. And between leading the charge to help restore and preserve HOPE Scholarship funding and facing off against the bevy of “religious freedom” bills, Evans has a track record of success that belies her short time at the Capitol.

With an A+ rating from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a host of awards including “Legislator of the Year” from the powerful Georgia Trial Lawyers Association in 2014, her resume is quickly running short on space. Her commendable commitment to public service includes a $500,000 donation to the University of Georgia Law School to create a scholarship for first-generation college graduates attending the law school.

The lawmaker/wife/mother turned down the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when it was searching for a viable candidate to oppose U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson this November, but expect to hear her name again for future, higher office.

http://insideradvantage.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/James-March-April-2016_web.pdf

WXIA-TV: The push for HOPE to cover 100% of technical college tuition

ATLANTA — A bill in the Georgia legislature would expand Georgia HOPE grants to pay 100% of tuition for students at Georgia’s technical colleges.

Backers of House Bill 22 call the measure a “game changer.”

Under the current formula, about 70% of tuition is covered for in-state students who qualify.

Representative Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), the author of the bill, said the proposed expansion, to cover 100% of tuition, would cost the Georgia Lottery, which funds HOPE grants, $21 million extra per year. She points out that the lottery is growing by an annual amount of more than $60 million.

Legislators say there is not enough money in the Lottery for Education program to pay for full tuition, any more, at all of Georgia’s colleges and universities. But Evans says there is more than enough to cover the tab at the technical colleges. And both Democrats and Republicans support the bill.

“It’s a game changer for both families and for our business community,” Rep. Evans said Monday, “[it would] help these families and these students who are looking to get to the middle class, and help our business community that needs a skilled workforce, now more than ever.”

House Bill 22 addresses bigger problems than personal funding. For example, the average age for a transportation tradesman in Georgia is 43. For every four people who leave a skilled trade, only one is trained to take their place. Skilled trade workers are aging out, leaving behind a gap between the jobs available and the skills new workers have.

In 2012, Governor Nathan Deal drew national attention to the skills gap when he launched the Go Build campaign. Months later, a Manpower study cited 39% of Metro Atlanta employers said they had difficulty filling open positions because of inability to find skilled workers. The Georgia Department of Education launched the Global Workforce Initiative which brings together private companies and high school students to bring skills into the classroom.

“The skills gap in Georgia — we’ve got jobs that are left unfilled, and we’ve got Georgians who are unemployed, but unfortunately the skills of the unemployed don’t match the skills needed for the jobs,” Rep. Evans said. “And a lot of those jobs require skills that you gain at a technical college. But access to technical college is sometimes a struggle, because students who attend our technical colleges are the most price-sensitive in higher education,” coming from households earning, on average, less than $40,000 a year.

The gap between what HOPE grants currently pay and the actual cost of tuition at the state technical colleges can total hundreds of dollars a year per student.

“That is the difference between a student being able to stay in school, and having to leave,” Rep. Evans said.

So, the age-old struggle that students face, paying for tuition, books and fees — often working two and three jobs to cover what scholarships and grants don’t pay — may soon get a bit easier for students at the state’s technical colleges.

“That is going to be really, really wonderful,” said Praise Chikezie, a student at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta. “It’s going to change everything, because I don’t have to worry about tuition, I just have to worry about my housing and my books. So that’s going to be really, really nice,” encouraging more Georgians to attend technical colleges, and providing a bigger, qualified work force for business and industry wanting to locate in Georgia.

That is, if the bill becomes law.

House Bill 22 may come up for a vote in the House by the end of the month. It will then move on to the Senate.

http://www.11alive.com/story/news/politics/2016/02/15/push-hope-cover-100-technical-college-tuition/80406338/

MDJ: State Rep. Stacey Evans sponsors bill aiming to increase HOPE Grants for tech school

State Rep. Stacey Evans sponsors bill aiming to increase HOPE Grants for tech school

by Jon Gargis

February 14, 2016 10:00 PM

More than 1,300 Cobb residents attending classes at Chattahoochee Technical College would be among the students across the state who could benefit from a local legislator’s proposal to increase the award amount of the HOPE Grant.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 22, which, if enacted, would increase the amount of the HOPE Grant to the full amount of tuition at technical colleges in Georgia. Currently, the grant only covers a percentage of tuition at technical colleges depending on revenues brought in by the Georgia Lottery, which funds the state’s HOPE Program.

Evans said under her bill, no taxpayer dollars would be needed to fund the increase to the HOPE Grant award amounts. Its estimated $21 million impact could be covered by the Lottery’s unrestricted reserve fund, which has grown at an average of $63.6 million a year since 2011, according to a memo supporting the bill.

“It’s not nothing,” Evans said of the $21 million cost. “But in the grand scheme of what the lottery produces and what we spend in the HOPE Program, it’s a relatively small amount, especially when you consider the good that the bill does. The bill is going to help drive students into technical college, which means it will put folks into jobs that are open and need to be filled by properly trained workers.”

Evans said the bill would help the state fill its “skills gap.”

“We have Georgians who are unemployed and we have jobs that are unfilled, and the skills of the unemployed do not match the skills needed for the jobs that are open,” she said. “A lot of those jobs that remain open are those you get trained for in technical college. (This) would be a great workforce development tool.”

Georgia’s HOPE Grant is available to state residents working toward a certificate or diploma at an eligible college or university in Georgia. A recipient does not need a specific high-school GPA to earn the grant, but is required to maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 at certain checkpoints in their postsecondary studies to maintain eligibility. The HOPE Grant program is separate from the HOPE Scholarship, which has academic prerequisites and is offered to those seeking a degree.

Among those who earn the HOPE Grant are students attending Chattahoochee Technical College, which operates three campuses in Cobb.

Currently, the HOPE Grant pays $67 per credit hour, according to the Georgia Student Finance Commission. A student at Chattahoochee Technical College pays $89 per credit hour, meaning the grant currently covers about 75 percent of tuition costs.

Taking into account mandatory fees in addition to tuition, the Hope Grant covers about 60 percent of the cost of attending the college, said Jody Darby, executive director of student financial services at Chattahoochee Technical College. For a student taking 12 course hours, the grant would cover $804 of the $1,341 cost of tuition and fees; at 15 credit hours, it would pay $1,005 of the $1,608 cost.

Evans said upping the grant amount to the full tuition cost would help residents who are most likely to be from families making less than $40,000 a year, who have already been in the workforce and who may be coming back for retraining after having another job or career and losing that job.

“We’re talking about folks for which that is the difference between them being able to stay in school or leave school,” she said.

Darby said increasing the payout of the HOPE Grant would help a significant amount of students at Chattahoochee Tech. The college’s enrollment for the spring 2016 semester stands at 9,252 students. Of those students, Darby said, 2,713 are on the HOPE Grant — about half of them, or 1,340, reside in Cobb.

“We have a large majority of our students who are using some type of financial aid. It’s definitely a selling point for our students that they have such great help from our state resources, and federal too,” Darby said.

Many more students statewide could see the benefits, however. Evans estimates that about half the enrollment in Technical College System of Georgia institutions receive the HOPE Grant.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, said he is in favor of the bill, though his affirmative vote on it should it reach the senate would be contingent on it including a fiscal note that shows an accurate cost of increasing grant amounts.

“I think we need to make sure we’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Tippins said. “I believe very strongly in the technical college programs and the HOPE Grants, and quite frankly, they focus on the areas where we’re going to have more job growth in the state of Georgia in the future, so it’s a wise investment in economic development. But we do need to make sure we have an accurate cost estimate to do that before we vote on it. I think that’s just good practice.”

HB 22 passed unanimously out of the Appropriations Higher Education subcommittee Thursday, Evans said, and now heads to the full Appropriations Committee for its consideration.

http://mdjonline.com/view/full_story/27086579/article-State-Rep–Stacey-Evans-sponsors-bill-aiming-to-increase-HOPE-Grants-for-tech-school?instance=home_top_bullets

AJC: Bill would fully fund tuition for tech college HOPE recipients

A bill making its way through the state House would tie the HOPE grant award to the cost of tuition at Georgia’s technical colleges.

House Bill 22, by Rep. Stacey Evans, would restore funding for tech college students that had been cut from the state’s scholarship program in 2011.

Evans, D-Smyrna, says the bill is a workforce-development tool that has gotten the support of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

A bill by Rep. Stacey Evans would full fund tuition for HOPE recipients at Georgia’s technical colleges.

Evans has long been an advocate for the state’s technical colleges and has previously attempted to restore full tuition funding for the HOPE grant. Her efforts two year ago resulted in a compromise that established the Zell Miller Grant scholar designation to pay the full tuition for the highest-achieving tech college students.

This latest proposal would eliminate the Zell Miller Grant distinction and pay full tuition for all HOPE tech college recipients.

The plan is estimated to cost between $21 and $23 million, which Evans says can be funded through the lottery’s unrestricted reserves.

Evans’ bill does not affect the HOPE scholarship, which serves students in the University System of Georgia and also fell under tighter restrictions as part of a 2011 restructuring.

Committee debate is set for Thursday on the bill.

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-education/bill-would-fully-fund-tuition-for-tech-college-hop/nqMSF/

Hillary Clinton Announces Georgia Team

Hillary Clinton has named over 60 Georgians to her Georgia Leadership Council, including Congressmen Hank Johnson, John Lewis, and David Scott and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. A full list of the Council can be seen after the break.

Congressman John Lewis:

“As our former Secretary of State, Senator from New York, and first Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to be President of the United States. I know her heart. We need her leadership, not just here in America, but all over the world. She is tireless in her advocacy for those who have been left out and left behind. She is ready to be President on day one. Hillary Clinton has my wholehearted endorsement, and I plan to work and campaign for her to see that she is elected the next President of the United States.”

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams:

“I am honored to join the Hillary for Georgia Leadership Council. Secretary Clinton’s vision for a just, fair and economically robust nation reflects the values of Georgia. We are excited to welcome the growing ranks of volunteers and supporters to ensure that Hillary Clinton becomes the next President of the United States.”

Representative Stacey Evans:

“I am excited to be a part of the Hillary for Georgia Leadership Council, and am proud to lend my active support to Hillary because she and I share the same goal of expanding access to higher education.”

http://www.peachpundit.com/2015/10/07/hillary-clinton-announces-georgia-team/

This legislator’s gift will matter

If you tried to find a state legislator who opposed the HOPE scholarship, you couldn’t do it.

The lottery-funded program that pays college tuition for Georgia students is one of the most popular laws ever enacted. Everybody loves HOPE and no one would think of eliminating it.

Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna), like her colleagues at the Gold Dome, is a major supporter of HOPE, and she did an extraordinary thing this summer to demonstrate that support.

She donated $500,000 to the University of Georgia to set up the Stacey Godfrey Evans Scholarship for law school students who are first-generation college graduates – the first member of their family to get a college degree.

Evans was one of those students, raised in Ringgold by working-class parents who couldn’t afford to pay their daughter’s way through college.

She was able to attend the University of Georgia, where she earned economics and law degrees, by pooling money from a HOPE scholarship, a federal Pell Grant, and other sources of financial aid.

“My parents didn’t go to college, they worked in carpet mills when I was growing up,” she said. “There simply wasn’t a savings account for college and there wasn’t disposable income available for tuition.

“It was HOPE, it was Pell, I had loans – every kind of financial aid that’s available, I think I had a piece of it,” Evans recounted.

“I also worked. I just knew how much I struggled and how hard it was, and how many times I thought I wouldn’t be able to stay in school.”

“I don’t know how I would have done it (without the grants),” she said. “It used to be that you could work a part-time job, go to school, and graduate in four or five years, but you just can’t do it now.”

She established her scholarship fund to help promising students who come from the same humble circumstances that she did: high school graduates from small towns whose families weren’t financially able to send them to college.

“I asked, as much as possible, that it go to a student from the non-metro area – either rural Georgia or North Georgia,” Evans said.

Evans, a practicing attorney, is still in the early stages of her legal and political careers. She graduated from law school in 2003 and was first elected to the Georgia House in 2010.

The money for the scholarship fund came from her work on a whistleblower lawsuit against DaVita HealthCare, which operates kidney dialysis clinics. DaVita was accused of overbilling Medicaid and Medicare and agreed to settle the lawsuit by paying $495 million, most of which went to the federal government.

“That’s pretty much what I did for four years – that was more or less a fulltime job,” she said.

Evans, along with other legislators, is trying to restore HOPE scholarship assistance to the level where it once again covers the full cost of tuition, rather than just a percentage of it.

The Legislature revised HOPE in 2011 by reducing tuition coverage to try to make the program more financially stable. One of the changes increased the grade-point-average requirement for technical college students to get HOPE Grants, which subsequently caused enrollment to plummet by 45,000.

Evans proposed, and Gov. Nathan Deal later signed, a bill that returned the grade point average to its former level and enabled more technical college students to become eligible for HOPE assistance.

It’s an interesting coincidence that another $500,000 gift involving the University System was bestowed earlier this year.

The Board of Regents approved that amount as a bonus payment to Georgia State University President Mark Becker, whose compensation already exceeded $570,000 a year.

The $500,000 for Becker will nearly double his yearly pay. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Every person has the right to make whatever the market is willing to pay for their services.

That money, however, might better have been used to help financially struggling college students.

Evans’ scholarship fund, on the other hand, will enable bright, hard-working students to continue their college studies and earn an advanced degree. It will do this for years to come and provide opportunities for many students.

Which of those financial gifts will provide the most benefits for Georgians? I don’t think it’s even a close call.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

http://newstimes.augusta.com/opinion/2015-09-30/this-legislators-gift-will-matter