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General Assembly keeps HOPE alive

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Georgia House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill on Wednesday which will ensure that Clayton County juniors and sophomores will be eligible for the HOPE scholarship, even if the school system loses its accreditation in September.

The Senate previously passed the bill, known as Senate BIll 480, and the measure now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his approval.

"We're very appreciative of the Clayton County legislative delegation, and other legislators for taking such a positive step to help our students," said School System Spokesman Charles White.

The coveted HOPE scholarship pays for full tuition and certain mandatory fees, and a $300-per-year book allowance at Georgia public colleges. Full-time students at private colleges can receive a $3,000-per-year scholarship, while part-time students qualify for $1,500 per year.

Senate Bill 480 creates a temporary provision in the law governing the HOPE scholarship program to protect high school students whose school districts lose accreditation a year or two before the pupil graduates.

The provision lasts until Dec. 31, 2010, and states that a student whose school system has had accreditation at some point in the last seven years, but is unaccredited when the student graduates from high school, will remain eligible for the HOPE scholarship.

The pupil still has to meet the other requirements established by the Georgia Student Finance Commission, such as achieving a 3.0 grade point average in high school, to receive the scholarship.

The bill also explains residency requirements for receiving in-state tuition at a college; explains that children of military personnel stationed in Georgia are considered residents of the state for HOPE purposes, and allows home schooled students to receive the scholarship.

The bill was sponsored by Sens. Vincent Ford (D-Atlanta), Kasim Reed (D-Atlanta), Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) and Tommie Williams (R-Lyons).

Clayton County Legislative Delegation members Reps. Roberta Abdul Salaam (D-Riverdale), Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), Joe Heckstall (D-East Point), Celeste Johnson (D-Jonesboro), Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta) and Wade Starr (D-Fayetteville) all voted in favor of the bill.

The bill passed in the Senate on March 11. Sens. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) and Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), Clayton County's only representatives in the state Senate, voted in favor of the bill.

The Clayton County Board of Education asked its legal counsel, Dorsey Hopson, on Wednesday, to draft resolutions thanking the General Assembly, and the Clayton County Legislative Delegation for creating, and passing Senate Bill 480 and House Bill 1302, which creates an ethics panel for the Clayton school board.

In other education-related action, the Georgia Board of Education, on Thursday, unanimously approved a resolution asking the Georgia Chamber of Commerce; the Metro Atlanta chamber of Commerce; the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and AdvancED, the parent organization of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), to form an advisory panel, which will look at effective ways for a local board of education to govern its school system.

"Business leaders understand the impact good board governance can have on a business," said the resolution. "Bringing to bear corporate board practices, the business community is well suited to lead an effort to identify best practices and to work with national experts in school board governance."

Dana Tofig, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Education, said the Clayton County school board's plight has brought the issue of governance into the media spotlight in recent months, but it was not the sole reason for the resolution.

"The [Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce] has wanted to do this for a long time. This situation just provided everyone with a jumping off point," Tofig said. "There are districts all over the state which have governance issues ... Clayton County just brings home how important of an issue this really is."

Once the advisory panel has been formed, it will have 90 days to study school board governance methods and prepare a report for the state board of education. The panel will work with educational advocates and support groups to look at the "best practices and policies for school board operations," according to a Department of Education statement.

Officials from both the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Education expressed enthusiasm, and pledged to produce a solid guide for Georgia school boards.

"Our work will be guided by the understanding that good boards create and sustain good organizations, both public and private. Ultimately, good school boards create good schools that develop the talented work force our state needs to remain competitive," said Gary Price, chair of the regional education policy committee for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.