Update: The ruling was overturned, and therefore the rules were not changed.
A recent court ruling means that many more veterans and family members might now be eligible to use educational benefits provided under the State of Texas' Hazlewood Act, and state lawmakers are scrambling to figure out how to respond. The ruling is being appealed, but the result may mean changes to the benefits provided under the Act.
The Hazlewood Act is a Texas state law that provides military veterans with up to 150 credit hours of tuition and fee exemptions for use at Texas state public institutions of higher education. This benefit is available to honorably discharged (or general discharge under honorable conditions) veterans who served at least 181 days of active duty service and have exhausted their federal veteran's educational benefits. The Hazlewood benefits may also be available to spouses and children under certain circumstances.
Under the previous rules, the veteran must have been a Texas resident at the time of entry into military service. However, the court has ruled that this portion of the rules is unconstitutional. The state is appealing the ruling, and the rules remain unchanged during the time of appeal.
If the ruling is upheld at the appeals level, this will open the door for many more people to use the Hazlewood Act benefits. In 2014, Hazlewood Act benefits cost Texas public universities approximately $169 million, of which the state reimbursed $15 million. If upheld, the ruling would see immediate costs to schools rise to approximately $750 million per year as more students take advantage of the benefits. Long-term, analysts predict that costs would rise to $2 billion dollars per year as veterans would choose to move to Texas to pursue their educations.
Obviously, this would be a huge cost to Texas public schools and the state's budget. Texas Senator Jane Nelson explains, "This lawsuit dramatically alters the scope of the program to the point that it would become financially unsustainable." Lawmakers were already under pressure from Texas state schools to contribute a larger portion of the lost revenue from Hazlewood Act veteran students. Now, lawmakers must figure out how to solve potentially sky-rocketing program costs.
Unfortunately, changes may mean fewer benefits or a smaller group of eligible recipients. We'll be keeping an eye on this story and let you know what happens in appeal. In the meantime, if you're an eligible Texas veteran, I encourage you to start taking classes now. The future of Hazlewood Act benefits is in jeopardy.