Georgia bills revising financial aid, college savings programs fail

Legislators sit in the House chambers on Sine Die, the last day of the Georgia General Assembly, on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Legislators sit in the House chambers on Sine Die, the last day of the Georgia General Assembly, on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

A bill to provide need-based financial aid to college students earlier in their studies and another to allow families to contribute more to their child’s college savings plan failed to win final passage Thursday.

Senate bills 237 and 469 got left in the dust on Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session.

SB 237 would have lowered the academic credit threshold students must reach to be eligible for the need-based Georgia College Completion Grant, which provides up to $2,500 per student.

Under the proposal, which passed the Georgia House of Representatives but failed to get a Senate vote, students would need to have completed 70% of their credit requirements in a four-year program or 45% of credits in a two-year program to receive help. The current threshold is 80%.

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, chair of the Georgia House Higher Education Committee, has backed the effort to make the funding easier to access for students, especially those at two-year schools.

Similar language had been included in House Bill 1124, but the proposal morphed into another bill in an unsuccessful attempt to win final passage in the Senate.

“I can only assume it wasn’t a Senate priority,” Martin said Friday.

The state paid out just over $7.2 million of the completion grant program’s $10 million budget during the program’s first year, from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023.

SB 469 would have allowed for an increase to the current $235,000 contribution limit to a Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan, also known as a 529 Plan.

Money saved in the account can be used for college and other eligible expenses. Savings grow tax-deferred, and withdrawals for qualified expenses are tax-free.

Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, had wanted to increase the cap to keep up with rising tuition costs. But the measure took on unrelated language that the House disagreed with, and a compromise wasn’t reached before the session’s end.

Esteves on Friday expressed disappointment with the outcome, saying the Senate “decided to tackle red-meat issues” instead of bills that “could have done a lot more for the average Georgian.”

A third higher education bill, House Bill 1231, was successful. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, would allow students to apply HOPE Scholarship funds toward graduate courses if they meet certain criteria.