South Carolina Becomes Most Recent State to Introduce Law Offering In-State Tuition to Veterans and Dependents
The South Carolina Higher Education Subcommittee approved a bill by Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken to immediately offer in-state tuition to veterans at all state colleges and universities. The bill now heads to the full Senate Education Committee. Senator Young's bill also allows a veteran who chooses not to use the benefit to transfer it to a spouse or child. Backers of the bill say it will bring more military retirees to the state and is the right thing to do in support of veterans. They also say it would help bring South Carolina into compliance with provisions of the The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act), which requires public colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and eligible dependents in order for the school to remain eligible to receive GI Bill education payments. This is the same law that allows veterans to receive non-VA health care rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a distant VA facility.
In South Carolina, backers of the bill estimate it will cost the state around $14 million a year in lost tuition and fees from non-residents, but losing all GI Bill recipients would cost the state around $30 million a year. This is an economic choice all states are having to make - lose their higher out-of-state tuition for veterans and dependents who are using the GI Bill, or lose all their Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill money. Most states are choosing the option of offering in-state tuition to all veterans and dependents.
Governors in California, and Nebraska have signed similar legislation into law, and in the past month legislation has been introduced in at least 7 states: Arkansas, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. The VA hasn't released any specific information about state compliance, but Curtis Coy, the VA's Undersecretary for Economic Opportunity said in a speech on February 9 that only two states, Georgia and Texas were in compliance with the law. According to the provisions of the Choice Act, states will have to be in compliance with the law by July 1, 2015 or risk losing GI Bill payments for Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill recipients at public schools.
Besides the possible effect on public school revenue, the Choice Act is also causing concern in at least one state regarding its treatment of same-sex couples. The Choice Act specifically says that states would have to offer in-state tuition to all "eligible individuals" and federal law provides benefits, including the GI Bill, to same-sex couples. Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts recently signed a veterans' in-state tuition bill into law but said in a letter to the legislature that while he agreed with the law it looks like the federal government is requiring states to recognize same-sex marriage in order to qualify for veterans’ educational benefits. He added he would resist any federal attempt to "usurp our constitution" adding if that happens, he wants Nebraska's senators to consider legislation to "reject the federal bureaucracy’s attempt to mandate its view of marriage upon our citizens."
While this legislation continues to play out across all the states one thing is certain, beginning on July 1, GI Bill recipients and their dependents who are using transferred benefits will have a lot more options available to them when it comes to choosing a college and furthering their education.