When making a capital investment, a wise investor does three things. First, she asks for a summary of the company’s value and assets. Then she conducts an environmental scan. Who else in the marketplace is doing this well and is the product being sold worth the price? Finally, there is the gut check. Am I putting my money where it can make more money for me while I sleep?
More than 20 years ago, Georgia made such an investment in the HOPE program. As the leader of the South, we understood that higher education was the competitive advantage we held over neighboring states. We would, we decided, use the irresistible allure of a lottery to fund the fundamentals of our success and send more students to Athens with a full ride.
Today, however, we no longer hold an advantage. Other states have replicated our success in the lottery, and our scholarship program is not translating into job growth. Georgia now faces a different question: are we getting our money’s worth out of HOPE? I would say we are not. The value differential has changed and so should our focus. We should be investing in our cutting-edge pre-k program, expanding it to add 3-year-olds and spending more on standardized quality childcare for 0-3.
Our value proposition is robust early childhood learning and universal literacy by third grade. Every economic evaluation proves out the value of this change of direction. The earlier a child achieves literacy and numeracy, the higher his earning potential and the lower his costs to the state. The return on investment is staggering: for every $1 invested, the state receives a return of $7. No stock short of Apple or the Facebook IPO generally offers such great odds. While the needs of college students and the press to fund higher learning is profound, our economic investment is better steered toward our youngest learners.
Universal learning for this age group requires a re-orientation of expectations. It’s easier to predict success when you can check a GPA and an SAT score. State Rep. Kathy Ashe, , has sponsored a resolution to evaluate our early learning strategy, and it should be adopted. The bottom-line is simple. If we want our state to once again be the great attractor of jobs, we should spend our dollars where we get the highest bang for the buck. A robust and invigorated expansion of Bright from the Start and the work of the Rollins Center can improve the lives of the lowest-income children and secure the future of every potential HOPE scholar. No one else has done what Georgia has, but we must do more.
Yes, the HOPE Scholarship has taken the front pages of the lottery debate for the last few years. We must also ensure that the HOPE Grant understands that technical colleges are a core asset whose students must be funded with a reasonable GPA of 2.5. But if we are looking for the Google of investments in education, funding pre-k with our HOPE funds is the best deal going. If we only have the courage to take the leap.
Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, is the Georgia House minority leader.