Opinion

Program pays local talent forward

The first Columbus cohort of REACH students will, if they keep up their grades and behave themselves through high school, get to attend college at Georgia’s expense. Each future local scholar selected for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen program will be supported by $2,500 raised locally, with the state paying three times that.

Either way, it’s a great deal — for the students, for their families and ultimately for everybody.

Eight Muscogee County School District eighth-graders have been selected by a panel of school and community leaders for this highly competitive needs-based scholarship program begun by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012. Each student is assigned an academic coach and a mentor, and must maintain a 2.5 or better grade-point average.

If they fulfill the terms of the contract they signed in a Tuesday ceremony, they can use the $10,000 scholarship at any HOPE-eligible school in the state.

A program like REACH looks like an excellent complement to HOPE, especially given growing concerns that the latter does not provide enough support for lower-income students (a purpose for which the achievement-based program was never created). Providing the means and guidance to postsecondary education for promising and motivated scholars whose only obstacle is the ability to pay goes well beyond philanthropy. It’s an investment of such obvious importance that it comes close to a moral and practical imperative.

Conflicted?

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly — and still, informally — known as the Ethics Commission, seems to have inadvertently created its own Catch-22.

As reported this week by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state panel created to oversee the business of candidates, elected officials, lobbyists and political organizations has adopted a new and stricter conflict-of-interest policy.

That’s a good thing. The last people in government you want having conflicts of interest are the ones who are supposed to be a safeguard against it.

The complication in this instance is that under the new conflict-of-interest guidelines, the newest member of the Ethics Commission appears to have a pre-existing conflict-of-interest condition.

Atlanta lawyer Jake Evans joined the commission last week, an appointee of Gov. Nathan Deal. He’s also the son of Randy Evans, Deal’s personal lawyer. Randy Evans is a partner in the law firm Dentons, which the AJC describes as “a global law firm with lawyers and staffers who have long been heavily involved in Georgia politics.”

Rick Thompson, a former member of the commission board of directors who has done work for both the Dentons firm and Deal political campaigns, told the AJC that the new policy is “somewhat concerning” because it could affect the firm’s business.

That’s a valid concern for Dentons. It shouldn’t be an issue for the commission.

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