By Bud Carter and Jason Hennessey

Question: Who do you know that has benefited from the HOPE Scholarship?

Or a better question to ask: Who do you know that hopes to benefit from the HOPE Scholarship? And do you know that hope (pun intended) is fading fast?

Over the past 18 years, 164,000 college-age young people attending Fulton and DeKalb County schools have received HOPE-funded scholarships. More than 161,000 youngsters living in those same two counties have received pre-kindergarten funds.

In fact, more than 1.4 million students have benefited from the HOPE Scholarship since its creation in 1993. Sadly, however, tuitions are increasing, the required fees are spiraling and funds from the Georgia Lottery (which makes it all possible) have reached a plateau.

What does it all mean? It means that while the HOPE Scholarship once funded 100 percent of the in-state higher education for our best and brightest, that number is now down to 87 percent. And over the next couple of years, that number is projected to free fall to 50 percent.

Think about what that means. Fewer youngsters get the head start on education that won Georgia national recognition. It means that many of our brightest high school graduates will have greater financial incentive to attend college out of state, making them statistically less likely to come back to Georgia to work.

That’s bad news for businesses already having trouble finding qualified people to hire. It’s even worse news in a weakened economy, when Georgia is trying to attract new industry.

We have, for years, profited when businesses considering relocation checked out our education system and saw the HOPE Scholarship’s positive impact. That competitive advantage is being lost, and also lost will be the tax revenues new industry would have contributed.

Gov. Nathan Deal has introduced a Graduate Georgia program with a goal of raising the college graduation rate from its existing 42 precent to 60 percent. How are we going to get there?

What is being done? Sadly, it would appear, nothing.

Neither the Georgia State Lottery Commission, which has legislative authority to do so, nor the governor, is taking steps to make sure we have a fully funded HOPE Scholarship. Are they playing politics with the future of the state’s greatest asset: our young people and their education?

What can you do? Go to www.SavetheHOPE.org and make your voice heard by signing the petition supporting a fully funded HOPE Scholarship. Tell your friends. If you are a community leader or run a business, volunteer your name to the list shown on the home page.

Save The Hope is a grassroots, all volunteer, no-one-has-a-vested interest, campaign. Get involved. Make your voice heard. Tell others. Let the powers that be know that doing nothing is not an option. We want to Save The Hope.

Saving The Hope is good business, good for business, good for our state and essential for the future of our young people.

Bud Carter is the senior Atlanta chairman for Vistage International, a global organization of executives focused on growing their businesses. He serves on several boards including the advisory board for Reporter Newspapers and Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.

Jason Hennessey is CEO of EverSpark Interactive, a Sandy Springs-based, full service search engine optimization agency and a regular contributor to a number of national publications.