Gov. Nathan Deal outlined a plan Thursday to expand a program that pays full technical school tuition through the HOPE scholarship for students in more high-demand areas.
The governor's proposal would expand the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant to include students taking courses in film set design, computer programming, precision manufacturing and certified engineering assistants. It would require legislative sign-off next year.
"Jobs are available and we don't have enough people qualified to fill them," he said at a stop earlier Thursday. "It's going to pay huge dividends."
Expect the expansion to play a prominent role in the final weeks of Deal's re-election campaign. Democrat Jason Carter contends the governor hasn't done enough to prepare Georgia's students for jobs after they graduate.
It gives the governor a positive note to sound on a day where his critics are pummeling him over the state's unemployment rate, which rose to 8.1 percent. The hike came as a surprise to the governor and many analysts, who expected the number to fall as more seasonal workers are rehired.
The grant already covers a handful of tech school programs, including commercial truck driving, diesel mechanics, early childhood education and welding. In all, the grant cost $11.5 million last year and covered about 12,000 tech students.
It's part of a broader remaking of the HOPE grant scholarship program for technical college students implemented during the most recent legislative session. Deal, in conjunction with House Democrats, expanded the HOPE grant to pay the full tuition of high-achieving tech students in hopes of swelling the ranks of Georgia graduates by 250,000 by 2020.
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