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Iowa legislators use surplus to fund education program

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | JANUARY 31, 2012 7:20 AM

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Iowa legislators plan to put $1.3 million in additional funds in the Iowa National Guard Education Assistance Program through surplus money from last year's budget.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who helped propose the bill in December, said Iowa's $500 million budget surplus at the year's end allowed legislators to follow through with the bill.

"It was something that we could well afford, and making good on the promises to those who have served us is a high priority," he said.

The bill follows the Iowa National Guard announcing cuts in December that would decrease tuition assistance from 90 percent to 50 percent, a result of increasing student demand for the program.

Iowa law guarantees all Iowa Guard service members at least 50 percent of the amount the state Board of Regents' universities offer for tuition coverage.

Last week, the Iowa House unanimously approved the bill, following the Iowa Senate's full support earlier this month.

"We wanted to maintain the level of assistance that we had in the fall, and we thought it was very important to pass it very early on," Quirmbach said.

Statewide numbers of Iowa Guard students have rapidly increased. Only 770 students enrolled in the fall of 2010; the fall of 2011 had 1,280 students. Iowa National Guard officials expect as many as 1,480 students to enroll this spring.

Col. Greg Hapgood said the biggest reason is increased enrollment.

"Now that [the Guard members] have come back, they want to start or go back to school," said Hapgood, an Iowa National Guard public-affairs officer.

Hapgood said funding availability varies on the year and the number of soldiers using the program.

"We are incredibly grateful for the Legislature for all that it does for the soldiers," he said. "This is a huge value for Iowa. Not only does it help us recruit our young people, but it helps the state of Iowa."

The University of Iowa had 116 Guard and Reserve members enrolled in the fall of 2011. This spring, 120 Guard and Reserve members are enrolled.

UI junior and Guard member Melanie Roth said she was a little annoyed to hear about the cuts in December.

"Even though it isn't a set thing, that's one thing that [the Guard] promises is that it is going to provide assistance," the 21-year-old said. "If it is going to have all these students join the Guard, then it should help them as it said it would."

Roth said educational perks drew her to enlist in the Guard.

"I've never taken out a loan," she said. "I don't have any debt, and so I pay for college myself and the Guard."

Following the initial tuition cuts, regent universities and some community colleges were able cover the students' cost for the spring semester. But Quirmbach said it was still necessary for the Legislature to pass the funding bill as soon as possible.

"The universities had stepped up to find some available funds on their own to try to maintain it so that people could stay in school," he said. "[But] it's not the universities' job to pay for the promises that the Legislature has made, and we did, and I'm proud that we did that."


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