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Bill would ease private college costs for veterans

Bill would provide post-9/11 veterans with tuition help at private colleges

Posted: May 22, 2009 9:19 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

California veterans from the post-911 era who want to attend a public college in the state get a free ride. But there’s little financial help for those who would prefer to attend a private school. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon and a coalition of California legislators would like to change that.

McKeon and his cosponsors in congress have introduced the Veterans Educational Equity Act so that post 9/11 G.I.s get the same benefits from private and public schools.  

Congress passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, in 2008 to expand educational benefits to veterans of the war on terror. But in a Thursday conference call, McKeon, R-Calif., explained how a California law can restrict the advantages for veterans seeking higher education at private institutions.  

“We ran into a problem because California, by state law, cannot charge tuition for in-state residents,” he said. “A veteran that goes to public school will go for free. But if he or she goes to private school, they’ll only get the amount the school charges for fees,” but not the amount charged for tuition.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill calculates a veteran’s benefits based on the public tuition and fees charged to an in-state resident. As an element of state law, in California, undergraduate resident students at public colleges and universities are not charged tuition. Instead, they pay fees.

Under the Post-9/11 G.I. bill, veterans who would attend public school could receive a maximum of $6,586.54 to cover those fees, as calculated by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Those wanting to attend a private school would be required to pay tuition costs, which could amount to a significant amount of money.

As an example, McKeon said a student attending Stanford University, where tuition costs approximately $37,000 and fees cost $1,000, a California veteran would receive no benefit to defray the cost of tuition and would only be able to access $1,000 in fee benefits.

McKeon said that after the Veteran’s Administration told the California legislators the bill could not be fixed, he and other legislators came up with the Veterans Educational Equity Act, which they introduced on Tuesday.

The act would clarify the Post-9/11 GI Bill to ensure veterans are able to access the full benefit — tuition plus fees — calculated under the law. This means a veteran who wishes to attend a private institution could access at least the $6,586.54 to offset tuition and fees.

That would be similar to the benefits enjoyed by veterans in other states, according to the information released by McKeon’s office.  

Congressman Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said he doesn’t anticipate the proposed bill would exceed the costs of the initially intended Post-9/11 bill.

“Given the fact the original bill was intended to address the needs of veterans, (regardless) of what school... it is completely out of the realm of reasonable thought to think that this is going to cost more money than what Congress originally wanted to do,” Thompson said.

Members of the California delegation are working against the clock as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs must get the first payments out before August 1, McKeon said.  

“Everyone’s pulling together to try and make this happen,” McKeon said. “It’s kind of a quagmire, when you have a bill written Tuesday and try to get it passed Thursday, that’s a big deal.”

As of Thursday afternoon, McKeon’s press secretary Lindsey Mask said there were updates on the bills status.

“The Congressman is continuing to gather cosponsors and is happy to see the California delegation coming together on the issue,” she said.



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