Published Friday, February 08, 2013
ATLANTA (AP) – Gov. Nathan Deal and state lawmakers have reached an agreement to lower the grade requirements to qualify for HOPE grants at Georgia technical schools.
The Republican governor was surrounded by legislators from both parties Thursday when he said the threshold will be returned to a 2.0 grade point average, a move that stands to benefit several thousand students at an estimated cost of $5 million to $8 million annually.
Lawmakers raised the requirement to a 3.0 two years ago during a time of sagging lottery revenues and long-term forecasts of HOPE insolvency, but Deal said an uptick in lottery proceeds allows for the flexibility.
"This will help Georgia families that are trying to get ahead and help with our work force development," Deal said, noting that technical college enrollment had dropped considerably since lawmakers raised the standards.
Rep. Stacey Evans, a Smyrna Democrat, said, "The difference in these students getting this grant and not getting this grant is the difference in them having a ticket into the middle class."
The change will require a legislative act, but Deal's event, which included House Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and several committee chairmen, made clear that the bill will experience smooth sailing. The changes will not affect requirements for HOPE grants to four-year schools.
Despite the bipartisan scene in the governor's office, there was subtle political gamesmanship over who should get credit for the expansion. Democrats have called for it since eligibility was tightened, and Senate Democrats in particularly have made HOPE expansion part of their session agenda.
But the Democrats Deal welcomed to the limelight come from the House. Evans thanked the governor, but still noted that several of her Democratic colleagues have been working on the issue.
Asked whether the Democratic proposals spurred action, Deal said, "We're glad they agree with us on this issue." He credited the change in policy more to Georgia Lottery deposits to HOPE increasing by $32 million over the first half of the budget year, compared with fiscal 2012.
House Minority Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, meanwhile, said the governor's office reached out to Democrats to pursue a joint announcement.
Deal said he could not say exactly how many students will benefit. He said his administration's analysis suggests that about 3,600 students left the two-year system because they lost HOPE aid. That accounts for about 15 percent of the enrollment drop, he said. Improvement in the job market, he said, accounts for much of the rest.
Besides action on the technical college grants, Senate Democrats want Deal to again make HOPE grants cover full tuition and guarantee the scholarship for the top 3 percent of students at all Georgia high schools. Deal said those ideas could expand HOPE too much, again raising concerns about the overall program's financial viability.
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