ATLANTA -- Georgia apparently has more smart students entering college than state officials initially thought.
Gov. Zell Miller needs an extra $29 million for the final six months of this fiscal year just to pay for thousands of HOPE scholars the state hadn't counted on, increasing the cost of the lottery-funded program almost 17 percent.
HOPE officials say far more Georgia students with "B" averages entered state public and private colleges than anticipated this year.
However, a HOPE program to provide extra money for top students going into teaching is expected to be cut in half because there aren't enough eligible scholars.
Officials with HOPE -- Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally -- were particularly off base in predicting the number of private college students who would qualify for scholarships this year.
HOPE officials budgeted for 4,716 private school scholarships this fall. Instead, 8,910 qualified, nearly twice as many as expected.
"They way underestimated the number of private school kids that would get a scholarship," acknowledged Steve Tompkins, spokesman for the program.
Under HOPE, Georgia students who graduate high school with a "B" average get free tuition and some expenses paid at public colleges and $3,000 at private colleges.
As long as they maintain at least a "B" average, they keep the scholarship.
Before last year, private school students got lottery money without having to maintain a "B" average. Technical school students from Georgia still get free tuition without any grade requirements.
Last year, nearly 53,000 public college students, 54,000 technical school students and 3,977 private college students received HOPE scholarships, according to state figures. Thousands of other private college students received $1,500 equalization grants.
Mr. Miller and HOPE officials budgeted for 111,000 public college and technical school scholarships this year, and 4,716 private school scholarships, setting aside $139 million for those students.
Instead, 124,000 public college and technical school students qualified this fall, as did 8,910 private college students, Mr. Tompkins said.
In Mr. Miller's mid-year budget proposal released this week, he is asking lawmakers for an extra $19 million for public college and technical school HOPEs, and $12.6 million for private school scholarships.
Decreases in some other categories of HOPE leave the final, extra tab for fiscal 1998 at $29 million.
"The good news is the program is doing what it was designed to do: keep the best and brightest students in Georgia," said Glenn Newsome, director of the HOPE program.
One of the categories the state overestimated was teacher HOPEs. Under the "HOPE Promise" program, juniors and seniors who maintain a 3.6 college grade-point-average and plan to go into teaching can get an extra $3,000.
Only 327 students received that scholarship last year. Nonetheless, lawmakers budgeted for 666 this year. So far, only 334 have qualified, leaving the state with $1 million left over.
A national education magazine praises Georgia schools for academic standards but gives the state low marks in providing a good learning environment. 7A