Senate Democrats propose HOPE changes

Senate Democrats introduced several bills Wednesday they said would expand Georgia’s popular HOPE scholarship.

The bills would undo many of the changes put in place when lawmakers overhauled the program in 2011. At that time Gov. Nathan Deal received bipartisan support to reduce award payouts and tighten eligibility requirements to prevent the lottery-funded HOPE from running out of money.

Since then Deal and other Republican leaders have been reluctant to make additional changes, saying more time is needed to determine the impact. But Democrats say changes are needed now to protect the students HOPE was designed to benefit.

The proposed bills include:

Senate Bill 59: Recipients of the HOPE Grant at technical colleges would have to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, down from the current 3.0 requirement. Before the 2011 changes, technical students needed a 2.0 GPA for the award. Nearly 9,000 technical college students lost the award because of the higher standard.

Senate Bill 107 /Senate Resolution 184: Proposes a constitutional amendment that would require the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia to accept the HOPE scholarship amount as full tuition. HOPE used to cover all tuition but no longer does. As a result, students and families must pay the difference. The bill would eliminate out-of-pocket tuition charges for HOPE recipients.

Senate Bill 112: Graduating seniors in the top 3 percent of every high school would automatically qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship, a full tuition award for the state’s highest-achieving students. The award currently goes only to valedictorians, salutatorians or those with a 3.7 GPA and at least a 1200 on the math and reading sections of the SAT.