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Wednesday, April 6, 2011 - 10:14am

Dem. Leaders Push HOPE Revision

A group of state Democrats says it has a plan to fully fund HOPE scholarship students returning this fall. But that proposal is getting a frosty reception from the Governor’s office.

The Democrats’ plan would tap lottery fund reserves. They say the money would cover current HOPE students this fall, instead of cutting their funding off now.

That gets this reaction from Governor Nathan Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson.

“What they are peddling is false hope. What they are peddling is a busload of snake oil.”

Robinson says there’s no money to do what’s being proposed. And he says the time for ideas should have come during negotiations on HOPE reform earlier in the General Assembly session.

But State Senator Jason Carter (D-Decatur) says the plan can be done, using the Governor’s own numbers.

“That we need 50-percent, about a $440 million reserve. In addition to that $440 million reserve, there’s $240 million that are excess dollars. That’s the only money that we’re talking about," Carter says." "We take them at their word, and we believe that we can use the other $240 million to provide a grace period to the students who are having the rug pulled out from under them.”

Carter says the governor has the power to tap the money by directing the Georgia Student Finance Commission to rework a formula. He also says even though the Governor has signed the HOPE bill, he has the power to alter it.

But Robinson says it's too late.

“The time to have this conversation was when we were putting the bill together, when they were not returning the Governor’s phone calls. That was the time to have ideas. The bill is signed, sealed and delivered. This process is over.”

Carter says however, he's had individual discussions on HOPE with Gov. Deal. Going forward, only the top grade earning students will get a full ride on HOPE.

Carter has been joined by a handful of fellow Democratic lawmakers this week in traveling the state to push their plan and hear concerns from students and parents on changes to HOPE. The group stopped in Athens and the University of Georgia campus Monday, followed by a swing through Macon and middle Georgia Tuesday.

Wednesday the group was to stop at Savannah State University.