Senate approves HOPE expansion for technical college students

In early Sine Die action, the state Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday that would pay full tuition for the state’s highest achieving technical college students.

House Bill 697, sponsored by Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, creates a Zell Miller Grant Scholar designation for tech students earning at least a 3.5 grade-point average.

The average cost of tuition at Georgia’s technical colleges is about $900 per semester. Books cost about $300, and fees account for another $130 in per semester costs, technical college officials said. About 85,000 technical college students earning at least a 2.0 GPA receive the HOPE grant, which pays about $730 of these expenses each semester.

The approved bill funds the gap between what the HOPE grant already pays and the full tuition cost. The bill represents part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to expand the grant program, and is a compromise to Evans’ initial proposal that would have paid full tuition for all HOPE grant recipients.

Before the vote, Sen. Jason Carter, who is leaving the Senate to run for governor, turned his comments about the bill into a sort of stump speech, claiming that the bill doesn’t go far enough. The refusal to truly invest in the state’s technical college students is still a problem, Carter said.

Earlier this week Republican Senators voted to limit debate on this and several other bills by prohibiting any amendments be added to the bill from the floor. Carter, D-Atlanta, said he had planned to propose an amendment.

But Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, quickly rebutted Carter’s message.

“We have to be fiscally responsible,” said Bethel, R-Dalton. “We can’t afford every wish list.”

By Janel Davis
AJC

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