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.

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.

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.

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.

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.–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.

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.”

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 that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at

On the Rise 2015: Stacey Godfrey Evans | 37

Attorney and state representative

As a child, Stacey Godfrey Evans found her professional role models among the doctors and lawyers she saw on television.

The daughter of Ringgold carpet millworkers whose parents divorced when she was a child, Evans says, “When you don’t grow up surrounded by people doing professional things, you are kind of left to TV. There are not a lot of professionals on TV. But lawyers are.”

Her family struggled financially, she recalls. “I knew that from a very young age. I remember the power being turned out, not having a phone. … I had my fair share of stepdads who weren’t the best men on earth. There was domestic violence in my house. … I witnessed my mother beat up and dragged through the yard more than I want to remember.”

Wanting to leave Ringgold and “do something big,” Evans put herself through the University of Georgia’s undergraduate and law schools on a HOPE scholarship, a Pell grant, loans, and wages she earned from waitressing. “Plenty of times, I didn’t think I was going to have the money to finish,” she says. She earned her J.D. in 2003.

A dozen years later, Evans, 37, has just closed the books on her four-year stint as second chair to partner Lin Wood in a massive whistleblower case against the nation’s largest chain of kidney dialysis clinics. Wood, Evans and co-counsel Marlan Wilbanks represented the whistleblowers in the case and in June secured a $450 million settlement from DaVita Inc. on behalf of their clients and the federal government. Whistleblower lawyers shared an unspecified contingency fee from their clients as well as additional legal fees and expenses payable to them under the terms of the federal False Claims Act.

Evans promptly donated $500,000 to UGA to establish a scholarship for law students who, like her, had to pay tuition and living expenses while struggling to remain in school. “If I can help take that off the back of even one student,” she says, “I’m really excited to do that. … I want students like me to know, ‘You are valued.'”

Evans, a Democrat, is also midway through her third term as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Her Smyrna district elected her in 2010. This summer she was recruited by the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to challenge Georgia Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. Evans turned the committee down.

“I reflected on why I am in politics in the first place, which is to make a positive difference in policy,” she explains. “I feel like I’m doing that in Georgia with my work in expanding tuition assistance in higher ed[ucation], and I don’t want to stop that work.”

Evans recently opened her own practice because she needs flexibility in juggling her legal work, legislative duties and family responsibilities and didn’t want to over-burden a partner. But she said she and Wood still share space and cases.

Wood calls her “a powerhouse destined for greatness in our profession” who has “amassed a record of accomplishments few can match in an entire career.” He said that during the DaVita litigation, Evans worked “super-human hours to completely and superbly fulfill each and every one of the very important roles in her life—wife, mother, lawyer, legislator, community activist and friend.”

“Simply stated,” he concludes, “Stacey laps the field in every category.”

Rep. Stacey Evans: ‘The HOPE grant should equal full tuition’

Four years ago, state lawmakers altered HOPE, the merit-based program that uses Georgia Lottery revenue to fund scholarships and grants for prospective college students, because the program was projected to go broke during the recession. The changes they made—reducing how many students qualified and how much they received—are now back up for reconsideration this week as lawmakers listen to casino proponents argue how legalizing table games and slot machines across the state could provide the state with up to $1.5 billion in additional funding for education, healthcare, transportation, and other needs.

State Rep. Stacey Evans, a Democrat from Smyrna who’s played an active role in shaping HOPE, is keeping a close eye on the study committee that’s weighing whether casinos should come to Georgia. In a recent interview, Evans chatted with us about how she would like to see the program retooled, the potential role of casinos in shoring up the state’s academic scholarship program, and why the state would benefit from providing some students with needs-based aid.

What changes would you like to see with the HOPE scholarship, which funds a portion of tuition for high school students who graduate with a 3.0 GPA; the Zell Miller Scholarship, which covers full tuition for those with a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT; and the HOPE grant, which offers full technical college tuition for those with a 2.0 GPA?
The HOPE grant should equal full tuition, and right now it’s just a percentage. The grant is cheaper than the scholarship. It’s needed because we’ve got a skills gap in a lot of the areas where we’re missing the jobs, and unemployed folks are in areas where they can be trained at technical colleges. It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of them. It’s a real good way to get students in the door, get them out, and get them employed. There’s a $21 million-$23 million price tag—all lottery funds. The lottery is healthy enough to do that with nothing changing.

The other legislation I’m trying to push hard—and I’ve talked about it with the governor’s office—is a bill that would allow the Zell Miller Scholarship to be given after students get to college. Right now, the only way you can get full tuition to college at a four-year school is to get a 3.7 GPA and 1200 [math and verbal] SAT score. You have one chance to win and that’s at high school graduation. Let’s say you, for whatever reason, didn’t qualify at high school graduation—most likely because of the SAT—but you have the grades to still get into a good college. If you get to school and knock it out of the park, and may even have a 4.0, you can never become eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship.

I know the stated reason is that we didn’t want to give full tuition to students who were going to drop out and not finish, or lose it by making a 3.0 GPA—Zell Miller Scholars have to make a 3.3 GPA to maintain full tuition. But if you’re doing well in college, it doesn’t really matter what your SAT score is anymore. The bill would allow students who maintain the required GPA of the Zell Miller Scholarship to then become eligible for full tuition.

The governor seems open to the idea. I think he wants a higher threshold, like a 3.5 GPA [in college]. I’m open to that. The price tag on the bill as I have it drafted—assuming a 3.3 GPA—is about $36 million. That’s more expensive because that’s the scholarship. But it’ll help a lot of kids like me—if I was coming up now, I wouldn’t have qualified for the Zell Miller Scholarship because I had a 3.8 GPA but didn’t have anywhere near the required SAT. But I did really well in college. I would’ve benefited from the bill I’m proposing.

The lottery is healthy enough to do both of those things right now. Our reserves are about $350 million—75 percent higher than it has to be by law—just sitting there, ready to be spent. We know it’s growing by at least $60 million every year. If we can approve the casino bill, that could be an influx of several hundred million dollars more.

The way the effort to legalize casinos is linked to the HOPE scholarship seems like replay of the push for the Georgia Lottery in the early ’90s. In that sense, the debate seems to be as much about education policy as it is morality.
You’ve got to tell people what you’re going to do with this money. You’re going to have to tell voters what you’re going to spend that money on. Obviously, my bills are one idea. The idea of needs-based aid sometimes scares Republicans away. But you could talk about it differently. If you establish a scholarship for first-generation college students, you’re going to capture need because those kids are more likely to qualify if you did a straight-up needs-based scholarship. You could have HOPE be a set dollar amount that would be enough to go to an Albany State University or a Dalton State University without paying out of pocket. But if you were going to go to University of Georgia or Georgia Tech, you might pay more. That’s going to drive poorer students because they’re more likely to choose smaller schools so they can stay close to home.

Another idea is for HOPE to pay full tuition for someone going to a non-research university, and a certain percentage for those who chose to go to a research university. That would help those who need it the most without saying that’s what you’re doing.

Most of those students are also from metro Atlanta.
Exactly. If you go to voters and say we’re going to approve this casino referendum because we’re going to spend more money on HOPE, most people would be scratching their heads. A lot of people don’t realize that HOPE doesn’t cover what it used to. If you showed people how much money the lottery is sitting on—it’s a reserve fund, but it’s growing more than $60 million—people would say you don’t need more money. So we need to be specific: What are we going to do with this money? We may need to come up with another name—I want to call it PACT, Preparing for Advanced Careers Together—and it would allow for students pursuing two-year associate degrees to get full tuition if they agree to a certain number of mentoring and community service hours. It’s similar to the Tennessee Promise scholarship.

Some people have said we should spend the money on Medicaid expansion—not in the Obamacare sense, but on Medicaid—or transportation or something to help rural hospitals. I’m a huge advocate for spending it on those causes, but I don’t think the public would go for that, having just raised the gas tax to pay for transportation. And isn’t the state already supposed to pay for Medicaid? That’s a harder sell than kids.

Casinos were once a nonstarter. But with the lottery’s existence over the past two decades, has opposition in Georgia eroded enough for blackjack and roulette to be welcomed?
You now can gamble online. Certainly you have more arguments now than you had 20 years ago. You can go on a riverboat in Savannah and gamble. If you haven’t been in a casino, your neighbors have, or family members. MGM or another casino businesses would say their casinos are not just gambling—it’s entertainment, it’s Cirque Du Soleil, it’s shopping.

Do you think there’s an appetite for casino legislation on its own merits?
You need that second piece. I don’t think it would work as just a bill allowing people to come into the state and generate sales tax revenue. I could be wrong about that, but I think you’re going to need something that makes people feel good about inviting in what most people think of as a vice.

What resistance are you anticipating with your proposals?
There’s an attitude among conservative Republican lawmakers that a HOPE scholarship should be merit-based and not dependent on any kind of need. I don’t know where that comes from—I guess the idea of a perceived handout. But if you give a tuition dollar to a student who needs it, that student will become a productive member of the middle class and pay a lot of money in tax revenue they might not otherwise earn. It’s not fair to tag all Republicans with this, but there’s a school of thought that says, “I paid my way through and you can too.” But tuition is too high now for people to work their way through school and graduate in four years like they did back in the day. People who subscribe to that idea don’t have kids in college, don’t pay those tuition bills, and they’re thinking about a reality from a long time ago. There’s a hesitancy of letting government be part of a solution.

For those reasons, it’s safer for everybody if we say it another way. There are enough Republicans who think there’s a need for helping students—and who want to help the least of us—but don’t want to say it that way. You’re going to need two-thirds [of lawmakers’ support]. The conventional wisdom is that you need all the Democrats and a fair number of Republicans to get this done. You’re not going to get all the Democrats if this isn’t money returned to the community in need. Why would we do that?

What are you keeping your eye on with this week’s hearings?
The folks who have an interest in pushing the casino bill simply for business reasons need to think long and hard about what we’re going to spend the money on. If you don’t worry about that on the front end, I don’t think it’s going to pass. You have to spend that cash on something that people want. Otherwise you’re not going to get to the part where you have your business interests served. I’m not sure those dots are connected right now.

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