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Ga. Senate adopts $19.2B state budget
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ATLANTA (AP) - More students would be eligible for low-interest loans that replace part of the HOPE scholarships they lost in last year's budget crunch under a $19.2 billion budget plan passed Wednesday by the state Senate.

The plan passed on a 53-0 vote. Since lawmakers in the House and Senate have adopted slightly different versions of the budget proposal, the differences will likely be worked out in a conference committee. It comes as Georgia is gradually coming out of a deep recession that drove down tax revenue.

Republican Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said rising costs in education, health care and other programs leave lawmakers with roughly $80 million in discretionary spending.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said he hopes to steer more low-interest loans to students who lost part of their HOPE award last year due to budget cuts. The scholarship previously covered the full tuition costs for students, though the awards are now less generous. The state gave some students low-interest loans to cover the gap between their scholarships and tuition costs. Those loans were awarded based on financial need.

Cowsert said he wants to make more such loans available to students who had already received a HOPE scholarship when the program rules were changed and their awards became less valuable.

"Any kid in college will be able to graduate and not have to fail to graduate because of financial reasons," Cowsert said.