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The Georgia Lottery: following the money to Newton County
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Recent articles published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution detail exactly how much lottery money goes toward education and how much lottery administrators give themselves in bonuses.

While funds taken in from the sale of lottery tickets have increased since the games' 1993 inception, the amount dedicated to scholarships hasn't kept pace with the revenues.

State law requires at least 35 percent of ticket sales go toward HOPE Scholarships and pre-K programs. The AJC recently reported only 26.8 percent is going to education - a decline occurring since 1998.

Last year the state paid lottery winners almost $2 billion compared to the $853 million spent on college scholarships and four-year-olds, according to the AJC.

 Catherine Crisp, college and financial aid advisor for Alcovy and Eastside High Schools, said she did not know whether the decline will affect Newton County students.

"As far as I know, as long as a student qualifies for HOPE, he receives the money," Crisp said, "so I wouldn't think that the decline has hurt the students at this point."

She said if the percentage of money dedicated to education - once 36 percent of ticket sales at its highest - continues to decrease, then lawmakers would have to restrict further eligibility for HOPE and pre-K which would affect students across the state.

Since the lottery's beginning in 1993, more than 15,000 Newton County students have received HOPE Scholarships totaling more than $26 million, according to the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

The Georgia County Guide, published by UGA's Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, shows that in 2006 alone Newton County raked in more than $32 million in lottery ticket sales - or $6 million more than HOPE money received by Newton County students during the 14 years of the lottery's existence.

Lottery games have produced $9.5 billion for HOPE and pre-K throughout the state according to the Georgia Lottery Web site.

Georgia Lottery President Margaret DeFrancisco has also been criticized recently for reserving $3 million in yearly bonuses for the organization's approximately 260 employees. The AJC described how DeFrancisco earned a $236,500 bonus this year, which combined with her salary is more than Gov. Sonny Perdue earns.

In Newton County, the average amount a student earns in HOPE Scholarship funding increased until 1996 when students were required to earn a B average to receive the scholarship upon graduation.

The average scholarship award for county students began to steadily climb again in 2000.

"Recent changes in HOPE scholarship eligibility requirements have probably caused a decline in the number of students who qualify for HOPE right out of high school," Crisp said.

Changes in eligibility this year include schools no longer calculating grade point averages, but rather sending transcript information into the Georgia Student Finance Committee.

Grades will not be weighted when calculating GPA such as when an advanced placement of International Baccalaureate course is taken. Eligibility now depends on a 3.0 out of 4.0 scale.

The new requirements were made effective for the students in the class of 2007.

Crisp said students have been made aware of the changes in a number of different ways.

"We have several handouts regarding HOPE that are given to students yearly," Crisp said.

She said the information about how to apply and who is eligible is presented in senior and junior packets, eight-grade packets, classroom guidance, seminars, flyers mailed home during senior year and students' one-on-one sessions with members of the guidance department.

Graduation coaches, counselors and teachers also direct students to which has all official HOPE information and guidelines.

"This site is also where students can go to apply for the HOPE scholarship during their senior year," Crisp said.

Parents and educators will no doubt be looking toward lawmakers to enforce the state statute about the percentage of lottery ticket sales going toward educational programs in 2008.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.