Veteran aid bill proposed

By Amanda Graf

Jason Wallace has found more than one way to fight for his fellow soldiers. Wallace served with the Air National Guard in Kuwait in 2005. As a chair of the Student Advisory Committee for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, he has worked to ensure that military scholarships in Illinois are properly funded.

The Illinois State House has passed a bill that would force the state to fully fund military and veteran scholarships. House Bill 479 would require provisions to be in the state budget to repay the colleges and universities for the promised scholarships, effective July 1, 2007. Currently, colleges and universities waive tuitions and fees for students who qualify for military scholarships without the guarantee that the state will reimburse them.

“There simply hasn’t been sufficient funds in the state budget to cover all the need,” said Don Sevener, director of external relations for the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Universities and colleges are required by Illinois law to waive tuition and mandatory fees for those who qualify for military scholarships, including the Illinois Veterans Grant, Illinois National Guard and Naval Militia Grant and the MIA/POW scholarship. In recent years the money the state has budgeted for these scholarships has not matched the actual cost of tuition guaranteed to the schools. Currently the state is not required by law to fund these scholarships.

The Illinois National Guard Grant currently funds Wallace’s tuition to attend Illinois State University, where he is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

“I’m happy to have free education, but it’s coming at the expense of other colleges and universities,” Wallace said. “Luckily the universities have (covered the cost) because they don’t mind helping out people who have served.”

A 2006 report from the Illinois Board of Higher Education said military scholarship programs have been under-funded because of “little or no increase” in funding for the programs and the rise in tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. Also, more recipients of these scholarships have chosen to attend four-year institutions rather than less-expensive community colleges.

This has added up to high costs for the University. The same study reports that 270 students at the University qualified for the Illinois Veterans Grant in 2006, which came to a cost of $2.5 million. The state only reimbursed the University for $1.59 million, leaving a difference of over $900,000 that had to be paid by the University. Statewide, the deficit for the program was $12.3 million last year.

Though he is grateful for the scholarship program, Wallace said he disagrees with any unfunded mandate from the state. The costs will be passed on to students through higher tuitions and fees, he said. He said the legislation passed through the House was “the ideal solution.” But with the bill being considered in the Senate, Wallace is still concerned that forcing the state to fund the scholarships could cause problems for the program.

“It’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on,” Wallace said. “Just because there’s a change in the law doesn’t mean the money is going to follow.”