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Plan to rescue HOPE OK'd by Deal
Funding for remedial classes, pre-K programs to suffer cuts
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Georgia Lottery: http://www.galottery.com

ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to rescue Georgia's cash-strapped HOPE scholarship that would cap the awards so they no longer rise as tuition does, effectively ending a 20-year-old audacious promise: free public college tuition to any student who earned a B average or better.

Deal plans to announce the plan on Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams told The Associated Press on Thursday. Williams said the plan includes cutting remedial courses out of the list of classes that the scholarship will pay for and scaling back the state's lottery-funded free prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds.

"Everybody's going to take a hit," Williams said. "We're spreading out the pain."

Deal, who took office in January, has made clear that keeping the HOPE scholarship intact for a new generation of Georgians was a key priority, and his aides have been in a flurry of meetings in recent days with legislative leaders to hammer out a deal.

Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, declined comment on the plan.

Georgia's popular HOPE program is set to go broke by 2012 after paying for more than 1 million students to attend college. While the state's lottery proceeds have continued to grow, they haven't been able to keep pace with rising tuition and exploding student enrollment.

The program is expected to have a $380 million shortfall next year and $420 million the following year if changes aren't made.

"I think everyone on both sides of the aisle have accepted that a structural change is going to have to happen in the HOPE scholarship if we want to save it as a solid program that still gives access to all the kids in Georgia who make a B average," said Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, chairman of the higher education part of the House Appropriations Committee. "Will it be as absolutely perfect as we have been blessed to have in the last 20 years? No, not in these budget times."

The lottery program pays for college scholarships, grants for technical schools and prekindergarten. The state constitution allows lottery revenue to go to technology and buildings for elementary, middle and high schools, but lawmakers cut that line item in 2003 as the HOPE program swelled.

Georgia high school graduates can get the HOPE - which pays for tuition, books and some fees - if they graduate with a B average and keep a 3.0 grade point average in college.

For the first time in nearly a decade, officials had to tap the HOPE's reserves this year, setting off a series of triggers designed to scale back the spending once the program began operating in the red. This fall, the $350-per-year book stipend for students on HOPE will be cut in half, and next year HOPE will no longer cover student fees.

The lottery-funded scholarship has been copied in a dozen other states, where lawmakers will be watching how Georgia rescues the program as they stare down similar funding problems.

Associated Press Writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report.

 

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