District 17 State Rep. Howard Maxwell, R-Dallas, said state lawmakers approved legislation this year to drop the grade point average required to become eligible for the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE Grant to 2.0.
The requirement formerly was 2.0 but lawmakers changed it to 3.0 in 2011 amid a severe shortfall in HOPE funds. However, that change brought a 13 percent decrease in enrollment at such state technical colleges as Chattahoochee Tech that has a Dallas campus, Maxwell said.
“Our technical schools are just an untapped gold mine for people to go back and help in advancing their careers and making good money,” said the six-term lawmaker. “There are a lot of good technical jobs and more coming into that field.
“These kids that are not going to go to four-year degree institutions can get into the technical system and hopefully further their education and find some good jobs out here,” he said.
The Legislature also approved a requirement that technical colleges support their budget requests based on number of graduates rather than enrollment, he noted.
“A lot of people enroll in colleges [and] the HOPE program. Then, after a year or two, they’re no longer eligible and they drop out,” he said. “We’re trying to move everything to an outcome-driven formula.”
He said he hoped to see more dual enrollment programs to allow high school students to graduate with both a diploma and a technical school degree.
State legislators also this year added enough funding in its $19.9 billion budget to erase a $500 million deficit in Medicaid funds through continuation of a two-year-old provider fee from the state’s hospitals.
“I think it was something that was necessary,” Maxwell said. “I think the governor did a good job of getting it done right. It helped fill a pretty good hole in the budget.”
He said he got calls asking him not to approve the funding for the program that pays for medical care for low-income and elderly Georgians.
“I said, ‘Fine – tell me where to look for another half a billion dollars and we’ll look for it,” he said. “This is something we’ve got there, and it’s got to be done.”
However, Maxwell noted a bill to overhaul the system for determining which counties best qualify to give tax breaks to help recruit new employers did not move past the committee stage.
He noted he wanted a change in the “hodgepodge” system that cities and counties must use to qualify to offer existing or future employers state tax credits.
Paulding is at a disadvantage because the system is based on such factors as poverty and growth rates. The county has a comparatively high per-capita income and is a high growth area compared to other parts of Georgia, Maxwell said.
However, the system does not take into account percentage of residents forced to travel outside a county to work, or proximity of such job-inducing infrastructure as interstate highways, he noted. Almost three of every four Paulding residents travel outside the county for employment, and it does not have an interstate highway running through it like neighboring counties Cobb and Douglas.
Maxwell added he was not optimistic the system could be changed because counties like Paulding are outvoted by those that better qualify for the tax credits.
“It’s going to take a tremendous sales job to get that through,” he said.