HOPE scholarship for tech students advances

A House budget subcommittee approved legislation Monday to create a scholarship for Georgia’s high-achieving technical college students earning at least a 3.5 grade point average.

The Zell Miller Grant Scholarship Scholar program, named after a similar award for four-year college students, is part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to expand the HOPE grant program. The award will cover full tuition for eligible students.

The measure is being sponsored by Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, who proposed a similar program last year. In an unusual move, Deal, a Republican is allowing the Democrat to handle his legislation. Typically governors merely co-opt the legislation of a member of another party, which is what Deal did with an Evans’ HOPE bill last year.

“It’s not perfect. I wanted full tuition for all but it’s a good compromise,” Evans said. “(Deal’s) bill covers about 20 percent of (current tech school) students. We view it as a 20 percent win.”

Co-opting legislation is something that happens when you’re in the minority party, said Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus.

The goal is to do the best for the people of Georgia, “we have to give up pride of authorship,” said Hugley, House Minority Whip. “We can’t afford to stand on ‘it was my bill and it’s my name on it,’” she said. “Whenever you’re in the minority party when someone takes your idea you know it’s a good idea.”

Evans’ initial bill would have cost $30 million to implement. Deal’s recommended budget includes almost $7.3 million to cover full tuition for fewer students.

The average cost of tuition at Georgia’s technical colleges is about $900 per semester. Books account for another $300 and fees $130 in per semester costs, school 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 bill now goes to the full committee for consideration.