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New Georgia dual enrollment bill clears the senate

A bill restricting student dual enrollment in high school and college classes in Georgia cleared the Senate floor Tuesday.

Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, House Bill 444 would limit dual enrollment to 30 hours per eligible student for college or technical college courses the state-run student-finance agency funds. Beyond that, students would pay for classes out of their own pockets.

The bill has backing from Gov. Brian Kemp as he seeks to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget. Supporters say the growing number of participating students could prompt the program to run out of money.

“We see how much this program has grown with no guardrails in place, with no end in sight,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, one of Kemp’s floor leaders in the Senate.

But opponents argued the changes would be too restrictive, causing students to start college with fewer class credits and more debt.

“The bottom line is students who are seeking higher education are going to end up with more debt,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.

The bill passed out of the Senate by a 34-18 vote.

Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes swelled from around $23 million when the program was launched in 2015 to around $140 million in 2018. The bill would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, officials say.

The proposal would nix free college-level classes for freshman high schoolers and limit 10th graders to courses at technical schools unless they qualify for the state’s Zell Miller scholarship, which requires students to maintain a 3.7 grade point average or better.

Only upper-class students in the 11th and 12th grades could take classes at colleges and universities in Georgia. Currently enrolled students would not be affected if the bill is signed into law.

The legislation would also trim some course offerings to keep the focus more on helping students gain technical certificates for future jobs. Supporting lawmakers have pointed out the program’s tax-funded offerings have evolved beyond their original intent to include exercise classes like Zumba.

Because of changes the Senate Higher Education Committee made to the bill, it now must return to the House before gaining final passage.