Don’t resegregate our schools

March 9, 2011

ATLANTA--Nearly 300 students, faculty and community members rallied at the Capitol on March 2 to save education. They were responding to the announcement of a terrible proposal by Gov. Nathan Deal that will effectively deny affordable access to higher education and early childhood education to low-income families and students.

A statewide coalition called Georgia Students for Public Higher Education (GSPHE) organized this emergency protest.

The rally was originally to include many of the Student Government Association (SGA) presidents from across the state, but only two of them came, after the chancellor of the university system told all of the university presidents to tell their SGAs not to show up, claiming there "would be consequences."

The size of the rally was limited by the SGA's inability to bring out numbers. But the crowd of 300 made up for their lack of numbers with their overwhelming energy and anger at this proposal.

The rally culminated with a brief sit-in on the main stairwell inside the Capitol by 60 students who refused to leave until they had an audience with the governor. Eventually, five democratically elected representatives of the group were granted a q-and-a session with the governor's chief of staff and press secretary.

Later in the day, many members of GSPHE, students and community members voiced their opinions in a testimonial hearing organized by the House Democrats. One African American woman representing "all the single mothers of Georgia who couldn't be here today" said that this would be a blow to all low-income families seeking higher education in this state.

THE HOPE scholarship is under attack in the state of Georgia. HOPE provides tens of thousands of residents with the opportunity to pursue higher education. As long as a student maintains a 3.0 or higher grade point average, all tuition is covered except student fees.

The HOPE scholarship was founded in the early 1990s as a way to reinvigorate public education in the state of Georgia by funding students' education through the state's lottery revenues.

Apparently, the lottery is "not bringing in enough money" to sustain the scholarship. With the state's budget shortfall, the main victims of conservative wrath have moved from public employees to immigrants and now to university students.

The scholarship was originally designed with an income cap. Families making over $100,000 were excluded from the program. During the 1990s, as the lottery program started bringing in more revenue, this income cap was removed. Additionally, in 1996, HOPE started to fund students who were attending private institutions with an award of $4,000.

The new proposal states that a student entering an institution from high school must have a 3.7 GPA, have taken "rigorous" courses as a senior (e.g. IB and AP courses), have over a 1200 on their SAT score, and maintain a 3.5 during their stay at a state university.

The bill states that those with a 3.0 GPA will have 90 percent of their tuition covered. This number is deceptive because the percentage is a fixed amount based on 2011 tuition, and is decoupled from future tuition hikes. In the period of two years, tuition (and student fees, which are not covered by HOPE) has risen by almost $1,000.

The idea of reintroducing an income cap has been proposed by Sen. Jason Carter (Jimmy's grandson). However, the emboldened Republicans who make up a voting quorum by themselves see no need to entertain the idea.

If this bill passes the Senate, the state of Georgia will see the beginnings of a process of resegregation in its schools along both race and class lines. As another component of this overall resegregation, the House of Representatives just passed the controversial HB 59, which legally denies access to higher education for undocumented students.

Georgia is also the recipient of a Race to the Top grant, promoting school closures and the growth of charter schools throughout Georgia. This process creates a two-tier education system in K-12.

These maneuvers clearly demonstrate that it is intentional on the part of Georgia lawmakers to consolidate education in the hands of the wealthy and affluent elite who can afford to pay the incredibly high tuition rates fostered by this economic crisis.

Rather than make working-class families pay for this budget shortfall, Georgia needs to introduce another bill similar to the one proposed last year of adding a 1 to 2 percent tax increase on those residents making more than $400,000 a year.

In addition, the state of Georgia needs is a stronger mobilization of students, which will be effective in combating these cuts before they even hit the floor.

This movement needs to foster and develop increasingly better ties with the growing immigrant rights campaigns in the state and the struggle against school closures in K-12. Only by doing this can there be a solid and meaningful movement capable of linking arms in defense of the right to education for the entire working class.

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