Lawmakers call for needs-based HOPE

ATLANTA --- To prevent the HOPE Scholarship from running out of money, Georgia Democratic legislators are calling for excluding students from families with high incomes. But the lawmakers are unlikely to get the change past the next governor.

Both Republicans running for governor, Karen Handel and Nathan Deal, told members of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that they oppose changing the popular scholarship to a needs-based benefit.

Democratic nominee Roy Barnes said Wednesday that he wouldn't go along either.

Late Tuesday, Democrats issued a statement calling for restoring the scholarship to its original design, from when voters approved the lottery in 1992, that funds it along with the pre-kindergarten program. At that time, it was limited to students whose families had incomes lower than six times the federal poverty level. In today's terms, that would mean a family of four with an income lower than $132,300.

"By setting the family income limit at or below 600 percent of the federal poverty level, it would ensure that the program would remain financially solvent and able to carry out its original mission," said Senate Democratic leader Robert Brown, of Macon.

A presentation Monday by officials from the Georgia Student Finance Commission showed a $560 million projected deficit next year.

Lottery sales continue to break records, but rising tuition and expanding enrollment in the program are outstripping the $884 million that the Georgia Lottery Corp. pumps into HOPE and the pre-K program.

Commission chairman Tim Connell said it hasn't estimated the possible savings of an income cap.

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