WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of New York lawmakers introduced legislation Monday with the hope that the state can become the first to end the effects of sequestration on troops seeking a college education.
The group, led by state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) and Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R-Fishkill), is seeking to allow current members of the armed services who are students at the State University of New York and the City University of New York to receive tuition discounts equivalent to the amount lost with the end of the military's Tuition Assistance program.
The Army, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines have all announced an end to their Tuition Assistance programs due to sequestration, while the Navy is still reviewing the impact. The program provides up to $4,500 a year in financial aid to current military personnel who attend college.
The G.I. Bill remains in effect, and can be used by veterans and those currently serving.
"Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. That is a good anniversary to honor the commitment we made," Lalor told The Huffington Post. "Let's honor these guys."
Lalor, an Iraq War veteran, said that approximately 9,000 New Yorkers were receiving military tuition assistance to attend a private or public college in the state. He said that 550 attend a CUNY school, and that SUNY has not finished calculating the numbers. SUNY and CUNY are the state's two public university systems, encompassing 88 campuses statewide (including community colleges).
Under the terms of the bill, all students at SUNY and CUNY who serve in the military would receive a discount in the amount they received previously from the military; it would not apply to students who join in the future. Lalor said the financial impact would be minimal for the two university systems.
Several private colleges around the country have introduced plans to offer tuition discounts for military members. Members of Congress from both parties have introduced legislation to restore the Tuition Assistance program, but Lalor said it may take too long for the federal government to act.
"We want these military members who are students to know what their plans are," Lalor said.
Lalor stressed the bipartisan support the bill has received, and said he believes that it should pass the legislature. He said he has not heard from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) or co-Senate Presidents Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) whether the bill will be fast-tracked. New York lawmakers are scheduled to take up the budget this week and then take several weeks off for the Passover and Easter holidays before reconvening in April. The annual legislative session concludes in June.
Lalor said he and Ball both believe that state governments are more likely to protect the affected students from the effects of sequestration than the federal government is. He said he is also reaching out to private colleges in the state and is calling on his state legislative colleagues nationwide to propose similar legislation.
"I do think it will spread," he said.
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