Georgia governor pushes HOPE grant expansion for tech college students

Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday that he will push for expansion of a program that pays full technical school tuition through the HOPE scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in high-demand areas.

The governor’s proposal would expand the HOPE Career Grant to include tech college students taking courses in five more fields: automotive technology, aviation, construction, electrical line work and logistics.

If lawmakers adopt the proposal next year, the tech school program will cover students in 17 fields including computer programming, diesel mechanics and film set design. The governor did not have an immediate cost estimate on the expansion but said it’s “money well spent.”

“I do hope the next governor will at least carry it forward,” said Deal, who is preparing for his final legislative session as governor. “We are training Georgians to do the kind of things we need to do, that industries are demanding.”

His plan is part of a broader remaking of the HOPE grant scholarship program for technical college students implemented during the most recent legislative session. Deal, working with House Democrats, expanded the HOPE grant to pay the full tuition of the highest-achieving tech students in hopes of increasing the ranks of Georgia graduates by 250,000 by 2020.

Some Democratic lawmakers have criticized the initiatives in past years, saying they don’t make up for cuts to the Technical College System made a few years ago.

To bolster the HOPE program’s finances, lawmakers in 2011 approved a plan pushed by Deal to restructure it by increasing the grade requirements for tech students and reducing award payouts. The lower grade requirements were restored during the 2013 legislative session.

The Democratic candidates for governor, former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and ex-state Rep. Stacey Evans, took sharply different views of the proposal.

Abrams, who played a key part in the 2011 legislation, said she also co-sponsored legislation to “restore Georgia’s commitment to technical education” and that as governor she would prioritize making tech college free for every Georgian.

Evans in a statement slammed Deal for failing to “restore the money he and Rep. Abrams ripped away from hard-working students trying to claw their way into the middle class” and said the Legislature’s failure to act on her proposals to reverse the cuts drove her decision to run for governor.