Friday, May 17, 2024

Bills to combat college costs for Louisiana veterans head to governor’s desk for approval

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana Senate gave unanimous final passage to two bills Sunday to make college more affordable for military veterans. 

Senators approved House Bill 485, sponsored by Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, to create the Louisiana National Guard Patriot Scholarship Program, which would cover the cost of mandatory college fees for Guard members. The bill is among Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative priorities for the year. 

Universities have turned to mandatory fees to supplement their budgets amid restrictions on tuition increases and cuts to state spending on higher education. 

At LSU, fees for an undergraduate student taking a 12-hour course load are nearly $2,000, which equals about 50% of in-state tuition. 

Louisiana National Guard members are already exempted from paying tuition at state colleges and universities. 

Tuition waivers have been a primary incentive used to attract people to the National Guard, but recruiters fear the increase in uncovered fees makes it harder to attract new members.

“The Patriot Scholarship not only creates a path for military service, but it also creates an opportunity for citizens to earn their education,” said Maj. Gen. Lee Hopkins, assistant adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard, when the bill came up in the House Education Committee in April. 

The Senate version of the budget, which has not yet been finalized, includes $2.3 million for the scholarship program. The spending plan still must pass the Senate and receive House approval on amendments by the end of the legislative session Thursday. 

The Senate also approved House Bill 167 by Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, that would provide a tuition waiver for disabled veterans. 

Cox is a retired disabled U.S. Army lieutenant colonel

“They come back to try to make their lives better,” Cox said in April, “and things are hard because some of them have post traumatic stress. Some of them have other disabilities.” 

A 2021 U.S. Census Bureau report indicated that approximately 20% of veterans receive disability compensation payments. Approximately 300,000 veterans live in Louisiana

Both bills now go to the governor for approval.

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