Among education bills, House lawmakers voted to lower grade requirements for those seeking HOPE grants to attend the state's technical colleges. Two years ago, state lawmakers raised the grade point average to 3.0 to address what was then a decline in lottery revenues that fund the HOPE program. Since then, the technical college system has seen a notable decline in enrollment as students lost access to the grants.
The plan passed Thursday would return the qualifying grade point average to 2.0. The bill now heads to the Senate and is likely to pass since it has bipartisan support and the backing of legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
Supporters say an increase in lottery revenues allows for the change and the move could benefit several thousand students at an estimated cost of $5 million to $8 million annually.
"This is designed to help the people of our state, many of whom are returning back to school to get the job skills they need during these tough economic times," said Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta.
Senate lawmakers took up changes to a tax credit program that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools. The changes, which passed unanimously, include a reporting requirement on the average household income of recipients and a requirement that eligible students must have attended public school for at least six weeks with a few exceptions.
Under the program created a few years ago, people can receive state tax credits by giving nonprofit scholarship providers donations of up to $1,000 for individuals and up to $2,500 for married couples.
The Southern Education Foundation had raised concerns that donors may have been allowed to earmark donations, although supporters had argued that was prohibited under the law. The Senate bill would add language specifically prohibiting that.
The bill would keep the current $50 million cap on the program, although the existing law allows for cost-of-living adjustments. A bill in the Georgia House that would increase the cap and provide for an expansion of the program has stalled.