Voters to decide if there

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 1999

is HOPE for education


Staff Writer

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Gov. Don Siegelman is asking voters to take a chance on the Alabama Education Lottery.

He says the awards of the lottery far outweigh the risks, but some remain skeptical.

The governor’s HOPE Scholarship program is part of his proposed education initiative funded by an Alabama Education Lottery. Amendement 1 to the Alabama Constitution will be on the ballot statewide Oct. 12.

The Alabama Education lottery would fund HOPE Scholarships. The funds would allow any student who keeps a B average and graduates high school to go to college tuition free.

"This legislation shatters the financial barriers to college and opens the doors of higher education to every Alabama family," Siegelman said. "My message to Alabama’s students is simple: Work hard, stay in school, stay out of trouble, make your grades and nothing will hold you back.

"You have earned the right to higher education."

Siegelman promised the HOPE Scholarship program will change education in Alabama forever.

The program will be administered by the Alabama HOPE Scholarship Office.

Qualifying high school graduates would be awarded the HOPE Scholarship. Recipients who attend a four-year school would study tuition free. In exchange for the award, they would have to maintain a B average in college. Recipients who attend a two-year state school would also go tuition free. They would have no grade requirements to keep the scholarship while in college.

The proposed plan awards qualifying students who don’t attend state schools a $1,500 per year scholarship for attending private schools.

The amendment not only establishes the HOPE Scholarship program. It provides for voluntary early learning programs for 4 year olds "so they can learn how to learn" and an office of information and technology, Siegelman said. It allows for computers and satellite dishes to be placed at all public schools "so the world’s information is at our children’s fingertips."

"Every child in Alabama will be able to reach his God-given potential through education," Siegelman said. "He will be able to go to school, get a job and provide for his family."

All programs funded by the Alabama Education Lottery are contingent upon its passage. Alabamians have the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment establishing the Alabama Education Lottery Oct. 12.

This date was selected because there will be city elections in Montgomery and Birmingham.

If voters approve the lottery, Siegelman’s program is based on income estimates.

The HOPE Scholarship program would cost an estimated $44 million the first year and up to $85 million annually after four years, when the program is fully phased in. Funds are to come from the state lottery.

That estimated revenue is the crux of Bill Scarbrough’s concern. Scarbrough, whose daughter Lauren may qualify for the HOPE Scholarship, isn’t relying on the lottery to finance her education.

"I don’t think the lottery will be able to generate all of the money that is needed to fund the HOPE Scholarship program," he said. "There are better ways, like increased property taxes, the state can find to fund education."

Scarbrough said he supports voters deciding if a lottery will come to Alabama but is not personally for the program.

"The lottery hurts most the people who can afford it the least," he said. "It is gambling to some extent, but I am not saying I wouldn’t buy a ticket.

"I advocate saving through mutual funds and using student loans as ways Alabamians can pay for college."

Alabama is among at least nine states considering a state-funded tuition scholarship program, according to an article in the April 16 issue of "The Chronicle of Higher Education." Similar plans are being examined in Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.

If voters approve the Alabama Education Lottery referendum Oct. 12, our state would join seven other states – Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina – who have large merit-scholarship programs, the article stated.

Some local educators support the Alabama Education Lottery.

Jack Hawkins Jr., chancellor of the Troy State University System, said the governor has his complete support in the program.

"Preschool education is important because it makes a real difference in the long term for children of Alabama," Hawkins said.

Schools statewide will benefit from the program’s technology component, he said.

Since about 75 percent of TSU students would qualify for the HOPE scholarship, the university might be able to use some of its other funds to attract more students, Hawkins said.

He said the lottery in Georgia has had a positive effect on education there.