Legion backed in-state tuition bill passes House

The U.S. House of Representatives passed by a 390-0 vote an American Legion-backed bill that will, if enacted, require colleges and universities to grant student veterans in-state tuition status or face losing some federal funding. Called the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, the measure passed by a 390-0 vote Monday evening.

In the language of the Act, the legislation would “require courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education that are approved for purposes of the educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-State tuition rate.”

While the student veteran would have to live in the state in which the institution is located while he or she is pursuing a course of education there, the veteran – under the act -- would no longer be subject to the “official residency” limitations imposed by some schools.

Some state institutions, for instance, mandate that a student must have resided physically in that state for a certain period of time before in-state tuition rates are granted.  Many veterans say they have had difficulties establishing “official” state residency because of overseas deployments, permanent changes in duty stations and other requirements of military service.

Since the Department of Veterans Affairs only pays schools at the in-state tuition rate on behalf of GI Bill students. Therefore, some students have had to make up the difference between the in-state rate and the non-resident tuition charges levied on them, or give up pursuing courses at those schools.

The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act would rectify this by mandating that the VA disallow courses of education offered by schools to veterans if they are charged tuition at a rate higher than “official” in-state students pay.  This, in effect, would cut off the VA’s GI Bill education payments to those schools.

The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act had been created with the assistance of and strong endorsement by The American Legion. National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger made the Legion’s position on in-state tuition for veterans clear last week in a statement to the press. “It is only right, proper and fitting that student veterans be afforded the in-state tuition rate at institutions of higher learning, regardless of their official residency status," he said. "These men and women seeking to better themselves educationally have given great service to our entire nation and should, therefore, be considered honorary citizens of all states.”

Dellinger’s sentiment was echoed by the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller who – along with the committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Mike Michaud – introduced the Act. “The men and women who served this nation did not just defend the citizens of their home states, but the citizens of all 50 states," Miller said. "As such, the educational benefits they receive from the taxpayers should reflect that.”Last April, testimony in support of the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act was presented to the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The following month, Legionnaires in Indiana declared victory when Gov. Mike Pence granted in-state eligibility to all honorably discharged veterans and active-duty National Guard members who enroll in an Indiana state university within a year of living in the state. The Department of Indiana had lobbied heavily in favor of the bill. 

Legislation similar to the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act, the Veterans Education Equity Act of 2013, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate but has yet to be acted upon.