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Gov. Nathan Deal signs Zell Miller Grant bill

The grant would cover tuition costs for an estimated 16,000 technical college students

ATLANTA — The Zell Miller Grant bill, which provides full tuition coverage for HOPE Grant-eligible technical college students who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average on a scale of 4.0, was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.

“To fulfill the needs of our ever-growing economy, we need more of our citizens to acquire education and skills beyond high school,” Deal said of House Bill 697. “This additional benefit will provide greater access to education, cultivating a highly skilled workforce and helping keep us the No. 1 place in the nation in which to do business. This bill received overwhelming bipartisan support, and I applaud the General Assembly for working with me to reward Georgia’s high-achieving students and bolster the state’s ability to attract and fill jobs.”

Based on current enrollment numbers, state officials expect the Zell Miller Grant to cover about 16,000 students in Technical College System of Georgia schools, or 20 percent of all HOPE Grant recipients. The grant will provide approximately $11 million in additional financial aid to technical college students.

Deal also included an additional $5 million in this year’s budget to expand the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant — a supplement to the HOPE Grant — to include additional high-demand fields, bringing the total funding for the program to $11.5 million. Students eligible for the HOPE Grant and enrolled in welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology, nursing, early learning or truck driving can apply. The SIWD grant covers much or all of the difference between the HOPE Grant and full tuition. State officials say it will help about 12,000 technical college students this year.

State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, the de facto Democratic nominee for governor, said HB 697 was inadequate. Carter has been focusing on Deal, who faces challenges from Georgia Superintendent of School John Barge and insurance agent David Pennington in the May 20 GOP primary.

“The governor took this bill and watered it down,” Carter said. “Now it puts on a Band-Aid when the patient needs surgery.

“The governor’s HOPE grant cuts decimated our technical college student body and led to 45,000 students leaving technical school. That’s not just a disaster for those students and their families, but it’s an economic disaster for our state. We’re already seeing some of our biggest employers like Home Depot saying they can’t find the trained people they need to fill their jobs in Georgia.”