The Issues

Good Governance                       

presenting HB 697I truly believe that Georgians have become tired of partisan bickering from elected officials.  Georgians want the state government to operate efficiently to make their lives better on a daily basis.

It is only the small minority of the loudest of us that wish to see our legislative bodies turned into arenas for partisan grandstanding and obstruction.

State government is not a vehicle to push a hyper-political agenda. There is a time for politics. And believe me, when that time comes I will work as hard as anyone to make sure Democrats once again are the governing party of Georgia.

But state government is more important than politics. It is how we fund our schools, our roads and bridges. It’s how we make sure college is affordable and taxes are spent wisely. Partisanship should not stand in the way of good policy decisions that will move our state forward.

As your representative, I promise to continue to put forward common sense ideas to make sure the state government is operating in the most efficient and effective way to make your life better.  Together, we can continue make sure the civility and level headedness is not a rarity at the Gold Dome.

HOPE Scholarship & Cost of College

In the early 1990s, the state of Georgia made a pact with Georgians. If you worked hard and succeeded in your studies, the state of Georgia, through the Lottery, would to cover college costs at a public Georgia institution.

This pact, called HOPE, pushed Georgia ahead of our Southern neighbors. Indeed, HOPE became a national model of higher education funding, and changed lives—including mine. As a poor girl from rural Northwest Georgia, my family could not afford to help me pay for college. But with the help of HOPE, I was able to go to the University of Georgia and get one of the best educations in the country.

Since then, the cost of college has sky rocketed, the Lottery is spending less of a percentage of their proceeds on education, and the state has had to start prioritizing where they will spend Lottery dollars in a way we’ve never had to before.

Unfortunately, we cannot simply return to the HOPE Scholarship program of the 1990s, despite recent record profits at the Lottery. It has been my number one priority in the legislature to fight to make sure we are spending the limited Lottery dollars as wisely as possible.  And we can do better.

The best use of those dollars is to ensure we are directing funds toward students who need them the most and would not otherwise find their way to a college campus without financial assistance. It is the best way for Georgia to attract a broader population of students to higher education—something that is desperately needed if we hope to compete for the jobs of the future. A targeted merit and needs based scholarship would not only offer a path out of poverty like the one offered to me, but it would also allow us to get a higher return on investment as HOPE graduates enter the job market with the skills they couldn’t afford to attain.

HOPE Grants and Technical College

Part of the original pact with Georgians was the HOPE Grant, which is separate from the HOPE Scholarship program, though it shares a name and funding source.

The HOPE Grant is a workforce development tool that was never intended to be merit based. The goal of the program is to get as many people highly trained and into our workforce as efficiently as possible by subsidizing the cost of tuition at one of Georgia’s technical colleges.

For 20 plus years, a HOPE Grant allowed eligible students to attend one of our technical colleges tuition-free. In 2011, the General Assembly imposed merit based edibility requirements, which choked off access to our technical colleges and resulted in an exodus of students from our technical college system.

Since then, I have worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans to broker compromises that lift some of that rigor in order to get us back to the original goal of the HOPE Grant: creating affordable skills training. But more must be done.  We are still pricing our potential work force out of the training they need to sustain Georgia’s economic growth.

As we continue to recover from the recession and attract a multitude of jobs to our state, we have to ensure that our workforce is aptly trained to fill those jobs. The best way to do that is with fully funded HOPE Grants that would allow eligible students to attend industry driven programs at a technical college tuition-free.

If we do not, we risk widening the skills gap and deterring further economic growth, and creating a bubble of student debt among technical college students that Georgia’s economy has yet to face.

Workforce Development

As we climb out of the recession, our state government has attracted thousands of jobs to Georgia. These jobs have also brought a skills gap. We simply are not graduating enough people from our technical colleges to keep with the recent influx of skilled labor in Georgia.

According to the Department of education, 65-70 percent of our higher education student body, both the university system and the technical college system, should be studying some form of skilled labor vocation in order to keep up with our economic growth. Right now, roughly a third of our student body is doing so.

In 2011, we decreased access to the HOPE Grant, our state’s traditional workforce development tool and saw the effects: students left the system.

Since we have seen first hand the correlation between access to technical college and shrinking enrollment, I think it is time that we increase access in order to increase our enrollment in skilled labor training programs.

Georgia’s economy is growing, but our trained workforce is not keeping pace. Increasing access to our technical college system while focusing on keeping our graduation and job placement rates high at those institutions is how we keep pace, and get people the jobs they need.