Bills to help Georgia police, others with student loans clear hurdle

Several higher education bills passed through one chamber on Crossover Day on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Several higher education bills passed through one chamber on Crossover Day on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Proposals to repay student loans for Georgia police, medical examiners and college nursing instructors are among the bills lawmakers are looking to pass in the final stretch of this legislative session.

The bills are part of a higher education agenda that so far has focused largely on workforce needs and steered clear of many hot-button cultural issues.

The state House of Representatives also passed a bill this week that would provide more need-based financial aid to low-income students earlier in their academic studies. That vote came on Crossover Day, the deadline by which bills must pass one chamber to progress.

Other college-related bills that received committee hearings haven’t gained such traction.

House Bill 131, a proposal to lower the cost of public college tuition for young immigrants in Georgia who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote. DACA students pay out-of-state tuition.

Neither did House Bill 39, which would prevent Georgia colleges from withholding a current or former student’s transcript if they owe the school money, provided the student needs the record to get a job.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that have progressed:

Student loan repayments

Student loan repayment proposals backed by Gov. Brian Kemp aimed at recruiting and retaining police officers and Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiners passed the state House in the days before Crossover Day.

House Bill 130 would repay as much as $20,000 in student loans over five years for up to 800 state and local police officers.

Legislators have made some tweaks to the bill since it was first introduced. The version that passed the state House last week expands the program’s eligibility to include full-time officers in Georgia who already have been employed for at least a year and who are enrolled in criminal justice studies.

That’s in addition to new officers who have completed any undergraduate degree program and were hired for the first time on or after Jan. 1.

House Bill 163 would repay up to $120,000 in student loans over five years for licensed physicians who work as GBI medical examiners.

A third student loan proposal, Senate Bill 246, overwhelmingly passed the state Senate on Monday. The bill aims to bolster the state’s nursing programs by incentivizing nurses to remain in teaching positions rather than leave for high-paying nursing jobs. It would provide up to $100,000 in student loan repayment over a five-year period for an eligible nursing faculty member.

Zell Miller Scholarship

House Bill 607, which passed the state House on Monday, would allow for the adjustment of test score requirements for the Zell Miller Scholarship, the merit-based tuition award for Georgia students.

Currently students must receive a score of at least 1200 on the SAT or a 26 on the ACT to be eligible for the scholarship, in addition to having at least a 3.7 high school grade-point average.

The proposal would allow the Georgia Student Finance Commission to annually determine the required ACT score using a 1200 score on the SAT as the equivalent.

Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, who sponsored the bill, previously told lawmakers that a student who scores a 1200 on the SAT is in the 75th percentile of test-takers, while a 26 score on the ACT is currently in the 82nd percentile.

To make the scores equivalent, the required ACT score should be lowered to a 25, he said.

Endowment for teachers

House Bill 392, to create the Georgia Endowment for Teaching Professionals, passed the House on Monday.

The organization would raise money to support hard-to-fill teaching positions in high-demand subjects in the Technical College System of Georgia.

Abolishing a corporation

A bill to abolish the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation cleared the state House well before Crossover Day.

House Bill 319 would get rid of one of three entities overseen by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the agency that also administers the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program.

The public corporation was founded in 1965 to support a federal student loan program that no longer exists. Officials have said that abolishing it will save staff time and free up about $25 million in revenue for other uses.