Georgia Capitol Building

The Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta.

Changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program could be in the offing that would nix free college-level classes for freshman high schoolers.

Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take post-secondary classes have swelled from around $23 million in 2015 to around $140 million projected for the 2021 fiscal year. A revised bill presented to a state Senate committee Wednesday would cap enrollment enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this year, Georgia Student Finance Commission President Caylee Noggle said.

Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the bill aims to keep growing enrollment in the program from overwhelming its budget. It has the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp. On Wednesday, Reeves said the program’s taxpayer-funded offerings have evolved beyond their original intent, noting some students can now enroll in exercise classes like Zumba.

“These are the kinds of things that I don’t think the program was intended to pay for,” Reeves said.

The bill would limit dual enrollment to 30 hours per eligible student for college courses the state-run student-finance agency funds. Beyond that, students would pay for classes out of their own pockets. The proposal would also trim some course offerings to keep the focus more on helping students gain technical certificates for future jobs.

Aside from eliminating ninth graders, the bill would 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.

Reeves will carry the legislation as a substitute to a bill he introduced last year on dual enrollment. His original bill largely mirrors the replacement legislation, which was crafted with staff from Kemp’s office.

Lawmakers on the Senate Higher Education Committee got a rundown of the proposal Wednesday afternoon. Several hailed the measure as a way to rein in the program’s costs and keep it from collapsing from too much participation.

“I think the solution that has been crafted meets the interest of students, their parents and the state of Georgia in terms of fiscal responsibility,” said Higher Education Chairman Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta. “I’m very pleased about the work product that’s been arrived at.”

The committee is expected to approve the bill Thursday and move it to the Senate floor.

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