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Meeting focuses on HOPE, pre-K cuts
Lawmaker calls for public input
Al Williams Office 1
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, works in his office in Atlanta. - photo by File photo

How do you feel about possible cuts?
• Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer: “None of us like the changes to HOPE but understand that the funds are not there and some changes needed to be made. College costs (tuition and books) are continuing to go up and although this means that students and their parents will have to come up with more money, I don’t think it will prevent a lot of students from going to college who would have attended anyway. 
“The reduction in the hours for technical college students will require that they be more focused in their studies. Raising the standards is a positive thing although we must be careful that we do not eliminate the opportunity for the good, solid average individual who is the mainstay for our society.”
Scherer said it is undecided how Liberty County will operate pre-k next year.
 • LCSS Board of Education member Marcia Anderson: “My daughter (who has now graduated) had HOPE the entire four years and it was a great benefit for us as a family.
“My personal thought is that instead of reducing HOPE or pre-K funding, the winnings paid out on the lottery should be reduced and more money put into education. Although I would love to win $128 million, I would be just as happy to win $100 million. A 10 percent reduction in payouts would probably fully fund both pre-K and HOPE, and lottery winners would never notice the change.”

• Bradwell 12th-grader Jamal Wright: “It just seems kind of sudden. It makes me realize I need to raise my standards. It will really test students. I understand that the economy is doing bad right now. I’m kind of ... just going through it because I love school.”

After changes to the HOPE scholarship recently were proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal, parents, educators and students began to protest the idea of reducing the program’s funds and limiting eligibility. The governor’s plan also would cut pre-K sessions by two hours.
 Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, hosted a town hall meeting Friday evening at the courthouse annex in Hinesville to address the changes that may be coming in the academic arena. The normally empty commissioners’ boardroom was packed with concerned educators, parents and Liberty County Board of
Education members.
“Since that vote [of using lottery funds for HOPE], you can’t find anyone in the state that is against the lottery,” Williams said. “Trust me, you’re in the majority,” he told audience members regarding their concerns about cuts.
The proposed changes include cutting back pre-K sessions to half days and requiring high school students to carry a grade-point average of 3.7 or higher and earn an SAT score of at least 1200 to receive a full ride to college as long as they can maintain an undergraduate grade-point average of 3.3 or higher. For students with a 3.0 average or higher, HOPE would still cover 90 percent of tuition, but books and fees would no longer be covered.
Williams said Deal plans to host a news conference Monday to further educate Georgians on the bill.
The representative said he suspects the conversation mostly will focus on pre-K issues because so many parents and educators have spoken out about the training students would miss out on if days were cut in half.
“It [the HOPE scholarship] is intended to give hope to those who might not have been able to go to college and it’s been wildly successful,” Williams said.
He also encouraged residents to pick up their phones and call the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s offices since the proposed changes fall under governor’s office.
“That’s where your calls need to go — to the governor and the lieutenant governor,” Williams said. “The ball is in their court. Keep the phones and e-mails alive.”
Jamal Wright, a 17-year-old senior at Bradwell Institute, attended Friday’s town hall meeting with his mother and listened to William’s updates. Wright said his government teacher recently discussed the possible impact the legislation would have on seniors in the class.
“A lot of students were close-minded about it [the changes,” Wright said. “I just hope the economy gets better and the students will raise their standards to be able to get the assistance they need.”

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