Last week was Crossover Day in the Georgia General Assembly, which is the last day a bill is able to pass either the House or the Senate and still be signed into law this Session. It’s a long day, full of many bills to debate, and it’s easy to tell the general tenor of any given years Session by what types of bills are under consideration. Seeing as all the bills legislators were confronted with were social issues thinly disguised as ‘savings to Georgia citizens’, it looks like the Georgia GOP is passing the buck on jobs yet again.
The plain fact is that Georgia, while making tremendous strides over the last half of the 20th century, still has a long way to go in reducing the gap between the “two Georgias”. Our state cannot depend on only Atlanta and Savannah in order to climb out of the economic hole caused by the Great Recession. Importantly, it was with this fact in mind that Governor Zell Miller inaugurated the HOPE Scholarship back in 1993. He knew that giving academically superior students (who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it) the chance to attend college would not only increase the size of Georgia’s technically proficient workforce, making our state more attractive to business, but also reduce the inequalities between the two Georgia’s in the process. However, last year, Governor Deal saw it fit to instead shift the HOPE Scholarship’s focus to ensuring a college education for those who are already assured of becoming a part of Georgia’s educated workforce.
The facts are stark. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported that Atlanta suburbs accounted for half of the 10,629 Zell Miller Scholars in Georgia, while some rural counties have none. In 2010, Georgia’s African-American citizens accounted for 30.5 percent of the state’s overall population. There are currently 74,278 students receiving the HOPE Scholarship. Of that number, only 17 percent are African-American. Of the 8,721 students receiving the Zell Miller Scholarship that attend Georgia’s research universities, only 320 are black, which is a mere 3.6 percent. The divisions that the HOPE Scholarship intended to heal are now enforced by it instead.
The HOPE Scholarship was not, and should not be, structured as an entitlement program for wealthy families that can already afford to send their kids to college. Georgia needs to invest in its children for the future, and in order to do that, we need to focus on sending the best and brightest who can’t afford it to our universities. Spending money on children who are already able to afford it means that Georgia’s human capital is going to plateau, not grow, as well as lack the diversity of background that has made America’s economy so innovative in the first place. If the government of Georgia doesn’t make this commitment, then it only shows that it is more interested in pandering to the base that elects it, rather than making a significant pledge to invest in the potential that lies not just in Atlanta’s suburbs, but in all of Georgia.