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Top leaders discuss HOPE over eggs

By Michael Davis

The governor further outlined his plans for the legislative session Tuesday, as the lieutenant governor announced a controversial plan to save the HOPE Scholarship.

Sticking close to his focus on children, education and jobs, Gov. Sonny Perdue told business leaders he wanted to "create an economic climate that encourages entrepreneurship" and "invest in the future by investing in the jobs of the future."

Showing clearly that some legislation has bipartisan support while some does not, Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, a Democrat, announced that he would not support tying Scholastic Aptitude Test scores to the HOPE scholarship. Republican Gov. Perdue has said though that he would support the requirement to save the struggling, popular scholarship.

"I oppose that recommendation," Taylor said. "(And) I oppose any cuts to the HOPE program."

Instead of limiting access to the scholarship, Taylor, citing skyrocketing tuition costs, called for the Board of Regents to freeze tuition rates for three years while law makers figure out a way to save HOPE dollars.

Perdue countered later by saying that linking SAT scores to the HOPE scholarship would help to raise the state's SAT ranking from last in the nation and give students and incentive to study for the test.

"I don't want to send a signal that I don't think they can raise SAT scores," Perdue said.

McDonough resident Thomas Wicker agreed that SAT scores are important but that all options should be weighed in determining how to rebound the program.

"We do have a situation we've got to take seriously in terms of the HOPE scholarship and the rising cost of education," Wicker said.

With an 18-year-old son ready to attend college in the fall and two daughters who will enter college within five years, Wicker said that HOPE, "Eases some of the financial burden for us?with three kids, we're going to have two in college at the same time."

Wicker said though he doesn't believe tying SAT scores to HOPE would necessarily raise scores, "I'm not opposed to having a relationship between the SAT and eligibility. But I think, off the cuff, to say that's the answer to the problem, it's too early too say."

Acknowledging that the problem is not an easy one to fix, Wicker said that all options should be left open. "We should look at the criteria for HOPE and also at what the institutions are doing," he said.