Scholarship cuts put pinch on top Georgia college students

A 2006 Peach County High School valedictorian now studying business and economics at Mercer University was furious to learn this month she will no longer receive a $900 annual scholarship once promised to her by the state.

“I worked very hard all through high school to get it, and there’s not too many things out there to reward top students,” said Lauren Fuller, whose tuition at Mercer is $28,700 this fall and more than her HOPE Scholarship will cover.

“Now, it’s getting taken away from me,” Fuller said.

April 3, the last day of the legislative session, the General Assembly approved budget cuts recommended by Gov. Sonny Perdue. One was a $1.6 million cut to the Governor’s Scholarship Program that has rewarded high school scholastic achievers.

The program awarded scholarships to graduating valedictorians and STAR students of their class to keep them in the state’s universities and colleges.

With state revenue down about 10 percent for the year and the need for a balanced budget, legislators axed the scholarship program. Plus, state officials argued that Georgia’s best and brightest students already receive HOPE Scholarships that typically cover tuition and books.

The Student Finance Commission sent letters to the nearly 1,500 scholarship recipients this month about the program’s end.

Fuller received her letter April 10. She wrote letters to lawmakers in protest.

“Usually, I used the scholarship for books,” Fuller said. “With Mercer tuition going up $841 (this fall), I’m getting hit with two things.”

It takes a loan and working part time in a Warner Robins attorney’s office to make up her tuition difference.

Other Middle Georgia valedictorians said this week they also were disappointed to learn of the scholarship loss.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Rutland High School’s 2009 valedictorian, Tyler Sullivan, who is headed to the University of Georgia this fall. “My parents and I were looking forward to the supplement. I think we deserve the $900.”

Westside High School’s 2009 valedictorian, Kasey Darley, also headed to UGA, said Tuesday she had planned to apply for the scholarship but could no longer find the application online.

Then she was told by her school principal the scholarship had ended.

“I know they have to cut money somewhere, and it’s sad,” Darley said. “I’m disappointed, but I understand.”

Perdue is scheduled to sign the budget cuts into law May 13, his spokesman Bert Brantley said.

While the governor has power to line-item veto spending, he can’t add money to a line item, Brantley said.

“The fact that the Legislature went along with this shows everyone gave it considerable thought,” he said.

It doesn’t appear likely the scholarship program will be reinstated anytime soon.

The fiscal 2011 budget also appears to be tough, Brantley said.

“There’s nothing to say it can’t come back,” but that’s up to the future administration, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard call, 744-4331.