Legislation looks to limit funds for schools that target veterans for GI Bill benefits

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 16, 2012

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers concerned over schools targeting veterans for their GI Bill education benefits on Thursday introduced legislation to limit how much federal funding those institutions can receive.

The measure is the second major legislative effort in the last month aimed at schools with high veteran enrollment and low student satisfaction, but neither measure appears likely to pass.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said that while she’s hopeful the issue can become a bipartisan rallying point, she has talked to colleagues leery of angering for-profit education lobbyists in an election year.

“Their influence is huge,” she said. “But this shouldn’t be a political issue. We want to make sure that veterans go to colleges that are accountable, provide a quality education and give them a good shot at getting a decent job.”

The legislation takes aim at federal law prohibiting schools from getting more than 90 percent of their overall revenue from federal dollars. Currently, that includes grants and loans from the Department of Education, but not GI Bill money, which comes from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Speier’s bill and mirror legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., on Thursday afternoon would fix that, counting veterans education benefits like other federal monies. Legislation introduced last month by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would do the same but cap the allowable federal dollars at 85 percent.

Carper said the current system provides incentives for unscrupulous school administrators to recruit veterans to take advantage of the guaranteed payouts. “They’re rewarded for enrolling those students but given little incentive to make sure that they graduate.”

Supporters from the Military Officers Association of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said they hope the legislation prompts schools -– and in particular, for-profit colleges – to clean up their recruiting practices and education priorities.

For-profit colleges have long opposed counting GI Bill funds toward the 90 percent cap, saying it could unfairly limit veterans’ choices and force some students into transferring schools.

In a statement, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities president Steve Gunderson said that his group is committed to finding “positive and constructive solutions that both protect our veterans and their access to educational opportunities” without the need for new legislation.

APSCU officials said nearly 200,000 students use GI Bill benefits to attend non-traditional colleges. Carper said that more than $11 billion has been distributed through the post-Sept. 11 GI Bill program, making the issue not just about honoring veterans but providing accountability for taxpayer funds.

Twitter: @LeoShane


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