Hope legislation passed

In an attempt to counteract increased scholarship payouts, the Georgia House of Representatives voted to cut HOPE scholarship benefits to over 236,000 Georgia college students currently receiving funds. HB 326 would remove funding for textbooks and mandatory fees, and it would establish a two-tier system which will award full tuition scholarships to those students who enter college with a 3.7 GPA and a 1200 SAT score and maintain a 3.3 GPA in college. Students with a 3.0 GPA in high school and college would receive 90 percent of tuition, adjusted each year by the legislature according to lottery revenues.
In a 152-22 bipartisan vote on Tuesday, March 1, Republicans and Democrats capped off a week-long debate over the fate of the bill. Introduced on Tuesday, Feb. 22 by Gov. Nathan Deal, the bill originally required students to maintain a 3.5 GPA to receive full tuition through what would be called the Zell Miller Scholarship. During discussion in the House Rules Committee, the Representatives lowered the GPA requirement required to keep the Zell Miller Scholarship to a 3.3 GPA.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is expected to pass and be signed into law by Deal sometime in the next month.
“This is a realistic and sensible approach to preserve HOPE for today and tomorrow’s young Georgians,” said House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blueridge) in a press release. “I applaud Governor Deal for taking action and leading on one of the most important issues the General Assembly will address this year because doing nothing was not an option.”
“We want to do everything we can to keep Georgia’s best and brightest in school with the full benefit package, while still creating incentives for students to work hard and go above and beyond,” said Deal in the same release.
While many House Democrats supported the bill, several took issue with how Republicans did not allow amendments, including one inserting a grandfather clause, to be discussed on the floor.
“Closing off debate on such an important matter is never a wise idea,” said Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) in a press release. “Because of the magnitude of this program, the far-reaching impact of HOPE for all Georgians and because of our economy, we simply must provide families more time to plan and prepare. We are doing our best to work with the Governor’s office, which has indicated a willingness to continue the dialogue. Time is of the essence.”
Corey Boone, Undergraduate Student Body President and fourth-year MGT major, had some reservations about the content of the House bill.
“I have mixed feelings. I think that it’s great that they changed the GPA requirement because that would open up the door for more full tuition to be covered by the Zell Miller scholarship for Georgia Tech students,” Boone said. “Needless to say, we still need a grandfather clause for Georgia Tech and other students to be able to financially plan and study enough to increase their GPA.”
Other Tech students were also unhappy with the lack of a grandfather clause and the increased costs it would cause.
“I don’t understand why there isn’t [a grandfather clause], or why there isn’t even a mention of it,” said Steven Ball, second-year CS major. “Housing costs go up every year. Mandatory fees seem to be going up for stupid things like athletics and stuff.”
“We can probably handle it, but it’s something we don’t want to pay for,” said Chip Cely, second-year CS major. “If I had to raise an amount of money for college, it would be a big hindrance. Luckily my parents are able to cover the cost.”
Charlotte Huang, second-year IE major, recognizes the benefits of the program, despite being from out-of-state.
“I think that HOPE was pretty cool. I think that in general, it’s a cool program to have for all states. People should look at the benefits of having it,” Huang said.
Cely and Ball hoped that the legislature would look into other methods of shoring up the scholarship.
“Maybe they should come up with another income source besides the lottery. Rich people don’t go into the lottery, so it’s mostly the poor people paying for our tuition directly,” Cely said.
“What are the chances that this happens again in the future, now that there’s a precedent set?” Ball said. “They can change it without a grandfather clause. They can just change it to an arbitrary number.”
Several hundred students protested the bill the morning of Wednesday, March 2 at the steps of the capitol. Organized by Georgia Students for Public Higher Education, students from Georgia schools including Tech attended. SGA did not sponsor the event, however.
“I was reached out to,” Boone said. “But we did not want to go out there in an unprofessional, unorganized manner and represent the 13,000 undergraduate students of Georgia Tech unless there is a centralized key measure we are bring forward. We feel that the relationships we’ve built over the past few weeks have been cultivated through one-on-on talks rather than getting out and creating sound bites and having press conferences. We feel our approach is the more effective approach.”
Boone also cited the vulgar nature of some of the rally’s fliers as a reason that SGA did not wish to endorse the rally.
SGA has worked on HOPE throughout the course of the semester, most recently presenting a HOPE white paper to state legislators at the GT Day at the Capitol. Boone said that SGA does not plan to hold another event at the capitol and will continue the personal approach it has taken so far to advocate those changes.

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