While legislators devised a way to say millions of dollars in the HOPE scholarship program, they added a cost of $4.5 million that will benefit students who attend private schools part-time.
The annual $1,500 scholarships will go for the first time to about 3,000 students taking six to 11 credit hours each semester, according to state estimates.
Some legislators who voted for the HOPE funding package, which was approved by the Legislature but has not yet been signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, say they did not realize it contained a provision that will increase costs.
"Why did we do that? That means when money runs short, you've used the money on a private school," Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Other legislators and officials of private colleges said it is a question of equity. HOPE-eligible students attending public schools like the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech part time receive tuition money for the credit hours they take.
"We just felt if this was available to Georgia students attending public colleges, it would also be fair to give it to the same students attending the private colleges," said Henry Hector, president of the Georgia Foundation for Independent Colleges, which lobbies for private schools.
The add-on was not recommended by the state HOPE Study Commission, which was charged with finding ways to ensure that the program does not run out of money.
Last year, some state officials predicted HOPE and the pre-kindergarten program, both of which are funded by revenue from the Georgia Lottery, would begin draining their reserves by 2006 or 2007. While lottery sales continue to climb, officials say HOPE's expenses are rising faster, fueled by rising college enrollment and increases in tuition.
Lawmakers adopted a bill that stiffened the requirements for the scholarship, phases out payments toward books and caps the amount the state will pay toward mandatory student fees.
The changes, as enacted, could save HOPE at least $180 million a year.