A word from our CEO, Randy Hicks

Election years get noisy, don’t they? Perhaps it’s just me, but they actually seem to be getting noisier with every election cycle.

On the brighter side, election years always remind me of why the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s policy work is so important:  Politicians come and go but GCO is always here, contending for the things you care about, no matter who’s in public office.

That’s what we’ve been up to this election year – working on what matters to you.  And because you’ve been a friend of the Georgia Center for Opportunity, I’d like to update you on our work over the past few months.

I am also writing to ask you to renew your support for the Georgia Center for Opportunity by continuing to invest in our work – and by taking advantage of the opportunity to double your gift. We can’t do any of this without you!

As you know, the Georgia Center for Opportunity believes that one of the defining ideas of America is a nation where everyone has an opportunity to achieve a better life. Like you, we believe that people from all walks of life should have the chance to succeed through talent and hard work, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.

GCO’s mission is to remove barriers to that kind of opportunity in Georgia.

The barriers we remove include those that interfere with healthy family formation, that limit access to quality education, and that promote dependency rather than self-sufficiency.  Sometimes those barriers are personal, other times they’re cultural, and still other times they’re governmental. Our work takes aim at those barriers. For example, in recent months GCO has:

  • Published a report with recommended alternatives to Medicaid expansion that would increase Georgians’ access to quality healthcare.
  • Produced prisoner reentry policy recommendations that were signed into law and adopted by the Governor’s office that increase the likelihood of ex-offenders finding and maintaining work, a key successful reentry and public safety.
  • Incubated Breakthrough Ambassadors, a community-based, mostly student-led program that prepares students for success both academically and professionally.

Here’s a deeper look at those issues and why GCO tackled them:

Charity Care as an Alternative to Medicaid Expansion

Given the constant fiscal crisis in Washington, it is our view that states must start finding creative ways to help those in need without looking to the federal government for help. And we recognize that some of the most compelling alternative solutions are developed at the community level, not in government offices.

For the past several months, much of GCO’s research has been focused on identifying ways we, as a state, can provide healthcare access for individual, poor, uninsured Georgians without expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In the process, we found local, sustainable ways to address the problem at a fraction of the long-term costs associated with the ACA. We propose reforms that will offer better health outcomes and stabilize financial burdens for Georgia families while maintaining responsible and sustainable levels of government spending. One of the best ways to meet the need for access to healthcare is Georgia’s charity-care network.

In 2012, Georgia’s charity clinics served nearly 200,000 individuals and saved the state over $200 million. They did all this without any support from the state. But with relatively modest support from the state – and some other changes to various laws and regulations – the charity care network could serve hundreds of thousands more. (You may access the report at www.georgiaopportunity.org/assets/Charity-Care-Report.pdf.)

Our next step is to education lawmakers about the steps they must take to serve individuals and families who may not have access to quality care.

Prisoner Reentry

Georgia’s incarceration rate is the highest in the country: about 1 in 13 Georgians are under some form of state supervision, versus 1 in 31 nationally. That’s a staggering difference. And between 1990 and 2011, Georgia’s prison population more than doubled to nearly 56,000 inmates. State spending on corrections soared as well, from $492 million to more than $1 billion annually. Despite this substantial investment, Georgia’s 30% recidivism rate had remained virtually unchanged for a decade.

Simply put in terms of dollars and cents, Georgia cannot afford these costs. But more importantly, we cannot afford the tragic human costs.

So, think about this: If we reduced the rate at which ex-offenders lapsed into criminal behavior by a very doable 10 percent, we would reduce the state costs of incarceration by $60 to $70 million per year. But more to the point, that ten-percent reduction would represent about 2000 ex-offenders who will have successfully reentered society, likely found employment, and quite possibly reconnected with their families in positive ways. That’s a pretty large-scale win-win!

You see, through our experience working to strengthen families, we have seen the social problems that arise from parents cycling in and out of prison. We have seen the impact this instability can have on children’s intellectual, social, and emotional development. And we have seen ex-offenders working hard to overcome barriers to successful reentry.

Over recent months, through our research and work with prisoner reentry experts, we have proposed and successfully advocated for solutions to remove unnecessary barriers to reentry. As I said, three of those policy recommendations were signed into law in April, and two additional recommendations were adopted by the Governor’s office.

The formula was this success? Excellent research, expert partners and effective advocacy. That’s what we do.

A Community Focus: Breakthrough Ambassadors

GCO remains a leading advocate for school choice in Georgia. In recent years, we helped lead the charge to create Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship and Tuition Tax Credit programs; and more needs to be done to increase access to quality education. But we also recognize that it’s important that our public schools perform well, and that a higher percentage of kids in those schools graduate and get on the path toward a productive and satisfying life.

To that end, GCO created and launched Breakthrough Ambassadors, which is a mentoring program that provides high school students with service and leadership opportunities designed to enhance post-high school success. The current pilot program was created to support the Breakthrough Norcross initiative that has an overarching goal to increase the number of Norcross Cluster students who graduate from high school.

More than 120 Norcross HS students are now participating in programs and events that expose them to various colleges, career paths, and service opportunities and assist them in improving academic performance.

In the coming years, we will be replicating the program in communities around the state, so that many more students will have the opportunity to succeed.

As you can see, we’ve been quite busy. Which is exactly how we like it.

We are grateful for men and women like you who support our work, invest in the future of Georgia, and make our success possible.

Your renewed support for the Georgia Center for Opportunity will help us continue to do the kind of work I’ve described, work that’s designed to remove barriers to opportunity so that all Georgians – and Georgia’s families – have a real chance to prosper.

Will you please consider making a special gift $75, $150, $250, or even as much as $500, $1000 or whatever your means allow. And thanks to the generosity of a key GCO supporter and the GCO board, any gift given between now and August 31st will doubled.  

Thank you for your investment in GCO’s mission and work.

You may make a secure donation online here.

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