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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Editorials

Veterans have earned tuition break

Published:

Florida and 42 other states punish out-of-state veterans attempting to obtain their higher-education degrees, a shameful situation that merits quick remedy.

At issue is the policy of charging nonresident veterans out-of-state tuition fees. As the Tribune’s Howard Altman reports, the G.I. Bill picks up the cost of higher education — but only at the in-state tuition rate.

This means veterans who have not lived in the state a year are hit with steep costs — or must delay their education.

The two-semester cost for resident undergraduates is roughly $6,000, but it is more than $20,500 for nonresident students.

According to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, last year there were more than 2,200 nonresident veteran students in state universities and colleges.

This is unfair to veterans, who move frequently while in the service and often begin school before they have established residency.

Veterans have complained about the burden, but so far state and federal lawmakers have failed to do anything about it.

That would change should legislation sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Peters and Sen. Jack Latvala, both Pinellas Republicans, be adopted next session and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

It would exempt veterans from the one-year residency requirement and allow them to pay in-state tuition.

It’s estimated this would cost about $8 million, which surely the state can make up in a $75 billion budget.

University presidents such as the University of South Florida’s Judy Genshaft are solidly behind the move.

They appreciate the veterans’ sacrifices and also understand that helping these students get their degrees and move into the workforce — without student loan debts — boosts the economy.

Last session, similar legislation, though a priority for veterans, failed, probably because a controversial immigration amendment was attached to it.

This time, lawmakers should keep the bill clean of attachments that can derail the worthwhile purpose of helping our veterans obtain college degrees.

On the federal level, Sen. Bill Nelson is a sponsor of legislation that would require states to waive residency requirements for veterans. Members of the Tampa Bay region’s congressional delegation, Reps. Kathy Castor, Dennis Ross and Gus Bilirakis, are strong proponents of the House’s G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act.

But Florida lawmakers should not wait for Washington.

A state that rightly prides itself for being pro-military should jettison this undue penalty on veterans who delayed their education and careers to serve the nation.

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