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Lucas seeks HOPE income cap

ATLANTA -- State Rep. David Lucas wants the Legislature to resurrect a HOPE grant and scholarship rule that would funnel the funds to students from families on the lower end of the income scale.

But he’s the only signer on his new bill, and even he’s skeptical about passage.

As his proposal is written, only students from families making less than $66,000 annually would be eligible for HOPE money to pay college or university tuition, though Lucas, D-Macon, said he wants to change the cap to $166,000 in another draft.

In 1995, the Legislature abolished a $100,000 annual family income cap on eligibility for the lottery-funded program. At that time, about 100,000 students received the money. Now, the number is quickly approaching 300,000, against flat lottery revenue and increasing tuition and fees.

Lucas admitted he’s not sure the proposal will get a committee hearing.

House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, said his party has not taken a position on means testing. However, some individual Republicans reject any cap, contending that the money should be tied to merit only.

Yet O’Neal said, “If we don’t act this year, the reserve will essentially be gone.”

Indeed, if nothing changes, the state may have to spend half its reserves just to meet bills for the school year that will end in 2012.

It’s not clear when someone will file a bill, but ideas include cutting the funds per student, raising academic requirements or not paying for remedial classes.

Lucas’ bill concerns only funding for university and college students. About a third of lottery revenue goes to Georgia’s pre-K schools.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.

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