This is a speech written by a GSPHE member to kick off our March 2 month of action. The words are largely written in response to Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to cut $300 million from higher education and to make significant cuts to the HOPE scholarship.
I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, and I am speaking on behalf of Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, a coalition of students who believe that quality education is a right and that it should be accessible and affordable for all. I also speak on behalf of any student who has had to work multiple jobs to put themselves through school and for whom the HOPE scholarship is not an entitlement, but a necessity.
While I, and GSPHE, are in full support of the SGA’s demands, I’d like to take a moment to remind you all of the broader implications of the cuts to HOPE, as these cuts are a direct attack on the right of all people to accessible and affordable education. Yes, it would be unfair if current HOPE recipients were not grandfathered into the program’s current benefits; and, yes, it would be unfair to propose that students must earn a 3.7 GPA, and then maintain a 3.5 to receive a stipend for full tuition, especially when the average GPA of the Georgia Tech Honors Program is a 3.34. HOWEVER, the even slimier underbelly of this bill (yes, slimier underbelly) is that the proposed cuts would increase barriers to higher education for the lowest income-earning families in the state (who are already underserved by severely underfunded and understaffed public k-12 schools), while simultaneously continuing the injustice of subsidizing lifestyle choices for the state’s top earners with the rake hauled in from folks desperate enough to see the lottery as their best way out. This gross redistribution of public subsidy from GA’s poorest to GA’s wealthiest is what has flawed this program since its inception, and especially since the income cap was removed in 1995. That, and the fact that the Georgia Lottery Corporation has only once in the past 16 years paid out the agreed upon 35% of proceeds to the account which funds the HOPE scholarship.*
It is here that our struggle begins to connect with the struggle of students and workers nationwide. From Madison, Wisconsin, to Los Angeles, California, students and workers are being forced to pay for a crisis that we did not start, and that COULD have been avoided. The revenue solutions are there and always have been! Just Google “alternatives to austerity” and you will find hundreds of measures that the US and GA could take to better fund public education and public services.
They say our nation is in a budget crisis, and yet we endlessly fund war and occupation, cut taxes for corporations, and bail out banks. They say our state is in a budget crisis, and yet we continue to fund the 4th most expensive prison system in the US. GA spends more money per inmate than per student. Apparently, there is no money for education, only mass incarceration. This is a crisis of priorities…where does our state think our youth will end up? In college or in prison!? We live in a state that systematically limits the opportunities for lower-income individuals and communities of color to financially sustain themselves, and then punishes them for their race or class, by locking them up!
And I know what some of you are thinking, mainly because you posted it on facebook, that not everyone deserves a higher education, or rather, that not everyone needs a higher education…but I stand to correct this thinking, because we live in a society that both undervalues and substantially underpays jobs that do not require a college education. Hell, I don’t know if I’m suited for higher education, but until you can guarantee me that I would be able to support myself without it…I will keep on fighting for access for everyone, because I believe that all people deserve quality education and secure employment, regardless of class, regardless of race or ethnicity, and especially regardless of DOCUMENTATION.
Today, whether you realize it or not, you are participating in a national, actually, international, movement, to defend public education and public services, and this is only the beginning! When we march to the capitol in just a few moments, we will be voicing not only our concerns, but the concerns of students and workers nationwide. Let’s DEMAND that they STOP THE CUTS! STOP DEFUNDING OUR FUTURES! And STOP THE ATTACKS ON HOPE and PUBLIC EDUCATION! We have the power to stop these attacks, but only when we utilize the strength in our numbers and within ourselves to stand up and fight back! When they say cut back, we say fight back! Cut back, fight back!
*It has been brought to our attention that the news outlet which reported that “the GLC contributed 35 percent only once in 1995,” was incorrect. The GLC contributed 35% of proceeds to the HOPE scholarship and pre-k programs in 1995 and 1997. In 1996 it contributed 36.1% to education. Since 1997, however, that percentage has declined, while net ticket sales, for the most part, have increased (Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts).