Monday, February 14, 2011

Indiana may cut college scholarships for children of disabled veterans

From The AP:

INDIANAPOLIS — Children of Indiana's disabled military veterans would no longer be guaranteed a full college scholarship under changes moving through the Legislature.

The proposal is included in a package of revisions to the state's college financial aid programs that have seen the number of applicants grow rapidly in recent years while funding has remained stagnant.

Veterans groups, however, are angered by the changes planned for the scholarship benefit to the children of disabled vets, saying it devalues their sacrifices.

Steve Short, chief administrative officer for the Indiana American Legion, said he's concerned about the number of Indiana National Guard troops and Reservists who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and might have children eligible in the future.

"I'm for cutting budgets," he told the Kokomo Tribune, "but not at the expense of veterans."

Since 1935, Indiana has guaranteed full payment of tuition and normal fees so that children of disabled or deceased veterans can attend college.

The revisions sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, would allow a 100 percent benefit to the children of deceased veterans or veterans who are at least 80 percent disabled. Children of those with lesser disabilities would receive aid at a minimum of 20 percent plus the percentage of the parent's disability.

Those currently enrolled in the program or children of those wounded in combat would not be subjected to the changes.

The Senate voted 32-17 on Thursday to approve the bill including the veterans program change. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Kenley said that even with the changes, Indiana will still have the most generous such benefit in the country.

"It is not a happy task, but if we don't do this, a few years down the road our fine program will be virtually decimated in terms of how many people we can serve because of the number of deployments we have," Kenley said.

Nearly 6,000 students received the scholarship during the 2009-10 school year, according to the state financial aid agency. The number of students exceeded the $20.5 million available in the state budget for the program, so colleges had to cover about $2.2 million in costs.

State reports show that 78 percent of the students had veteran parents who were less than 50 percent disabled and that 90 percent of the available money went to students who weren't eligible for income-based financial aid.

Legislators said they don't plan to cut the funding available for the program, but they don't expect any increases.

Terry Bruning of the Indiana Veterans of Foreign Wars said his group is working with the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS to oppose the legislation.

Bruning said the bill's "far-reaching impact goes against the goal of Indiana to educate our children and keep them in the state."