A HOPEless Cause

Though it looks as though Governor Glendening’s plans for a middle-class education entitlement will be dashed this legislative session, we are disturbed to note that some legislators are committed to further “study” of the government-provided scholarship issue. From the point of view of fiscal responsibility, this is a scheme with nothing to recommend it. Deep-six it now.

It is instructive to look at the experience of Georgia, the state whose lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program serves as the inspiration for big spenders everywhere. (The acronym stands for “Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally.”) Contacted by Calvert News, HOPE Associate Director Charmaine Moore dismissed concerns that the requirement that students maintain a B average in high school to get a scholarship might lead to grade inflation. “We haven’t seen a huge increase in the number of students meeting the requirements,” she said. However, Kelly McCutchen, executive director of the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, tells a different story. He notes that, as of this year, the B average must now pertain solely to core-curriculum classes: English, math, social studies, science and foreign languages. This change was necessitated to stop students from earning their B averages by taking a study stream “gut” classes, such as woodshop and home economics. Such practices had drastic results. McCutchen says that so far about 25 percent of HOPE “scholars” have needed remedial classes upon entering college. The HOPE administration’s own figures show that 57.2 percent of scholarship recipients drop out of college.

More worrying still is the propensity for programs such as these to expand. Originally intended to assist low and middle-income students, HOPE has become “an entitlement for everyone,” says McCutchen. The figures certainly bear him out. When started in 1993, HOPE scholarships were restricted to students whose parents earned less than $66,000 a year. They covered tuition only, not other fees, and then only for the student’s freshman and sophomore years. After a year, the income cap was lifted to $100,000, all four years of college were covered and funds were provided for mandatory fees and books, as well as tuition. In September 1996, the income cap was removed altogether. Likewise, vouchers for parents to send their children to private colleges were initially set at $500 in 1993, lifted to $1,000 in 1994, and then hiked to $1,500 in 1995. All told, Georgia’s spending on HOPE increased from $21.2 million in school year (SY) 1994-94 to $132.2 million in SY 1995-96.

Do you seriously think that Maryland’s political establishment would be immune from the pressures that led to the creation of Georgia’s ever-expanding entitlement? If so, the Calvert Institute has a particularly pleasing piece of waterfront property in Arizona that you may be interested in. – dpm

Posted in: Education, News Series