"The REACH Scholarship continues our state's ongoing commitment to providing access to higher education for all Georgians, regardless of their income," Deal said in a press release. "This scholarship will reward students for self accountability, promote parent involvement and provide motivation and support; all factors that we know are critical in student educational achievement.
"Contributions from companies such as AT&T are important to this effort. This gift demonstrates that AT&T understands the need to ensure that all Georgia students have access to post-secondary opportunities. We encourage other Georgia companies and citizens to get involved in this effort."
Deal recognized the work of Cartersville Superintendent Howard Hinesley, who brought this scholarship model to Georgia and to the attention of the governor's office. Hinesley began a scholarship with this model while he was a superintendent in Florida, which scaled the program statewide.
"It was special. The governor gave a good bit of credit to [REACH] being modeled after the GateKey program," Hinesley said, adding he was joined by School Board President Linda Benton, Cartersville Schools Foundation President Lisa Bell, and GateKey recipient Daphanie Johnson, who spoke at the event. "It was a special day for us because [REACH] has the potential for lots of students across the state to benefit, and of course that's what the governor's intention for setting up this program is, so that lots of kids will benefit for years to come."
REACH Scholars will be selected in middle school and will sign a contract to maintain a certain grade average, remain crime, drug and behavior-issue free and meet with a volunteer mentor until they graduate from high school. Their parents or guardians also will sign a contract to support their student through their education. Students who complete program requirements will receive a renewable yearly tuition scholarship of $2,500 to be used at any HOPE-eligible institution. This amount will cover the average gap between other needs-based scholarships, such as Pell, and the full cost of attendance.
The GateKey scholarship program, which began in 2007 through the Cartersville Schools Foundation, awards college scholarships for eligible students beginning as early as the fourth grade while holding students accountable for their grades and behavior throughout their academic career.
The scholarships are two-year scholarships awarded for Chattahoochee Technical College or Georgia Highlands College. However, recipients can petition the foundation to use scholarship funds toward other colleges.
Johnson, who is now a junior, received her GateKey Scholarship in the eighth grade and is planning her future education. She said she hopes the state model will help more students to pursue higher education.
"I talked about how I thought the GateKey Scholarship [model] would benefit students throughout the state," Johnson said. "... I plan on studying animal medicine in college, I'm not sure what college I plan on going to yet, I'm thinking about UGA or Berry College, and you can use the scholarship toward any college in Georgia. You can use it to pay for your books or anything like that."
Identifying students and awarding scholarship money will happen at the local level, with each partner school district. Douglas, Rabun and Bulloch County School Systems will be the first to pilot the REACH Scholarship, with additional partner districts to come on board each year.
While GateKey remains as a Cartersville staple, Hinesley said the school system may eventually receive supplemental benefits from REACH.
"At some point we'll be eligible to be a partner, and of course what they're doing initially is starting with a small, medium and large district to kick it off, but down the road, once it's in full swing, we'll be eligible as well for our students to benefit from some of the financial resources," Hinesley said.
Deal also commended Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson for the institute's commitment to match the REACH Scholarship award for any REACH Scholars that are accepted to and enroll at Georgia Tech and called for other institutions, public and private, to make similar pledges.
"I want to thank Dr. Peterson and his team for joining our quest to reward those who perform well in school and need extra help to ensure they are able to enroll in college," he said. "I also encourage other campus leaders across the state to follow Georgia Tech's lead in making this a successful program for years to come."
The REACH Scholarship will be funded entirely with private dollars, and a 501(c)3 tax-exempt foundation has been established to spearhead fund-raising efforts. The foundation is housed at the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the state agency that provides financial aid to help Georgia students realize their higher education dreams.
"AT&T's commitment to supporting education spans decades and continues today," said Judy Agerton, regional vice president community affairs -- AT&T Georgia. "The REACH Scholarship will open the door to a post-secondary education for at-risk youth in Georgia who may have not otherwise had an opportunity."
The REACH Scholarship is part of Deal's "Complete College Georgia" initiative, launched in August 2011. By 2018, more than 60 percent of job openings in Georgia will require some form of postsecondary education. Complete College Georgia is designed to increase the number of students with access to higher education and ensure that these students graduate with relevant postsecondary degrees in a timely manner.