Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jason Carter of Decatur, have called for an overhaul of the program to restore full scholarships for all students who receive an award.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Deal said the state should focus more on improving high schools so that graduates are ready for college – not how to hand out scholarships to more graduates.
Last year, lawmakers cut the HOPE scholarship for all but the state’s highest-performing students. Critics say that means full scholarships are going mostly to students in wealthy suburban school districts and not the poor students who need the money the most.
“We should all be working on trying to bring up the quality of those students in terms of their academic achievement at the high school level, in terms of their ability to make higher SAT scores, not trying to bring other high achievers down or to penalize those who are our high achievers,” Deal said.
The state has a goal of adding 250,000 more college graduates by 2020, which will mean making sure every student is ready for some type of post-secondary education. Deal said that’s why he launched several need-based programs to help students afford college, including a low-interest loan and a scholarship for low-income students.
He said HOPE is still among the most generous scholarships in the country, providing more than 80 percent of tuition for hundreds of thousands of students.
But Carter and other Democrats say the requirements to get the top awards – called the Zell Miller Scholarship after the ex-governor who launched the lottery – are unfair to poor students. The full ride requires a 3.7 GPA and 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT.
Carter has proposed legislation limiting the household income of HOPE recipients and giving Zell Miller Scholarships to the top 3 percent of every high school’s graduating class, no matter what they scored on a college-entrance exam. He also wants to remove the GPA requirement put in place last year for students who receive HOPE money to attend a technical college.
“I think you have deserving kids all over this state, who are the best and brightest in their communities and who are first in their class or fifth in their class who deserve to go to college but who might not do that well on the SAT for a host of reasons,” Carter said.
Carter has voiced concerns that Deal’s plan will spend down the HOPE’s reserve account and result in scholarships paying very little of the cost of a college education for most students.
Projections from the Georgia Student Finance Commission show college students will be paying more out of pocket than they receive in HOPE money by 2015.