All five pieces of Georgia sports betting legislation officially died in their respective chambers, marking yet another year that Georgia’s students will not see increased funding for the HOPE Scholarship program from sports betting revenue.
Since its inception in 1993, the Georgia HOPE Scholarship has provided nearly $10 billion in financial assistance to students in the state of Georgia. It’s made attending college a reality for nearly 2 million students, and, as former Gov. Zell Miller put it, has been instrumental to building “a better-educated workforce and investment in Georgia’s economic future.”
Legislators looked to buttress that investment through a series of legislative efforts that would have legalized sports betting in Georgia, with generated tax revenue returning to the state for education.
How does the HOPE Scholarship help Georgians?
The HOPE Scholarship and Grant Program is available to Georgia residents pursuing postsecondary education, whether a full four-year degree at a state college or university or a certificate or diploma at an accredited technical school. Specific requirements must be met for each.
A full HOPE Scholarship is awarded if a student graduates high school with at least a 3.00 GPA, which must be maintained throughout the scholarship period. HOPE Grant recipients do not have to meet any high school GPA requirements but must maintain a 2.00 cumulative GPA at their postsecondary school of choice.
For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the HOPE Scholarship will pay a maximum of $9,640 per student for two semesters, and 15 credit hours per term. That’s a $1,960 increase from the previous year.
Over 75 educational institutions are HOPE Scholarship eligible, including the University of Georgia and private colleges such as Spelman, Emory and Morehouse.
Senate Resolution 140 and Senate Bill 172 would have increased financial aid
Senate Resolution 140 and its enabling legislation, Senate Bill 172, followed the constitutional amendment path to legalizing sports betting in Georgia, requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature and a voter-backed ballot initiative to amend the Constitution. Should it have become law in the Peach State, not only would Georgians have been permitted to place wagers on sports, the state’s education system would have been in line for a revenue boost – with the HOPE Scholarship in particular.
Tax revenue from SR 140 would have benefitted the Lottery for Education account, which has seen the bulk of lottery funds since the Georgia Lottery was legalized in the state. The legislation would have specifically carved out a new category for the HOPE Scholarship, establishing funds for needs-based financial aid applicants in the state. As it exists today, the HOPE Scholarship only awards merit-based scholarships.
SR 140’s educational earmarks are outlined below:
- Fifty percent of proceeds to needs-based scholarships, grants or loans to the University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia or eligible private colleges and universities.
- Twenty-five percent for programs and services related to health care, mental health, economic development and poverty reduction.
- Fifteen percent for public health and education related to gambling addiction.
- Five percent to “innovational educational programs and services.”
SR 140 also would have authorized the creation and appropriation of revenue to the Educational Opportunity Fund, the Community Enhancement Fund, the Sports Promotion Fund and the Education Innovation Fund.
SR 140 debate focused on needs-based language
The scope of SR 140’s tax revenue benefit became a focal point during Senate floor debate, with Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, filing an amendment to strike the language that created an additional group of applicants under a needs-based qualification.
SR 140’s educational benefit aimed to open financial aid opportunities to Georgians who did not meet the current 3.0 threshold for a HOPE Scholarship, particularly in areas high in poverty and low in opportunity.
Beach seemingly took exception to that notion, instead interpreting it as lowering student achievement standards.
“No one in this chamber can argue the HOPE Scholarship has been wildly successful,” Beach said. “By fully funding HOPE, there will be no reason for a new category of needs-based scholarships. If you have a B average, you will get your education paid for.”
Beach was one of the original sponsors of SR 140. Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, the legislator who proposed the bill, referred to Beach’s proposed amendments as “poison pills.”
Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, objected to the second amendment’s removal of needs-based language in the final text, raising a parliamentary inquiry during voting:
“Mr. President, is it not true that I did not have a ‘B’ average, but I had a ‘Thank you, Jesus’ average before graduating high school?” Mallow said.
All three of Beach’s amendments failed, and it was curious that a senator who co-sponsored a piece of legislation would propose such consequential changes when the bill reached the floor.
HB 380 never saw the floor; SB 57 roundly rejected
As for House Bill 380, the House’s attempt to bypass the need for a constitutional amendment, it never even reached the floor for a vote. The bill would have installed a 25 percent tax rate on sports gambling, with generated revenues also going to education initiatives and HOPE.
Senate Bill 57, which also would have circumvented the constitution, made it to the floor but was soundly defeated on a 37-19 vote. That bill would have amended the Georgia Lottery for Education Account to ensure a reserve account was maintained equal to “50% of the average amount of net proceeds deposited into such account for the previous three fiscal years.”
Another year passes without additional education resources
Georgians, particularly those in impoverished and underserved communities, will again miss out on additional funding for educational initiatives imperative to the state’s growth, such as HOPE. The earliest the state can now legalize sports betting – and enjoy an infusion of tax revenue – will be 2024, when legislators are again anticipated to bring bills to the floor during the General Assembly that would legalize sports betting.