Hazlewood Act will cost the state $380M by 2019

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is known for providing some of the best benefits to veterans in the country. The Hazlewood Act gives qualified veterans up to 150 hours of free tuition, but some say it’s putting a big strain on public universities. The cost may be too great in the future for the state to fund it. Many lawmakers believe they must reform Hazlewood in order to save it.

Grant and Danielle Stearman attended the ACC Veteran’s Resource Center’s one-year anniversary party. They met while serving, and it didn’t take long for love to play its part. “She broke into my backyard and started fishing,” said Grant.

“It was the only one of the houses that had a clear path to the lake,” said Danielle.

“I went over to introduce myself and yeah, that’s kind of how it started,” said Grant.

Since he enlisted in Texas, Grant gets 150 hours of public education free of charge. And thanks to a law passed in 2009, their daughter will get to use hours he did not. “Having a kid is expensive enough as it is,” joked Grant.

But this past January, a judge ruled the part of the law restricting Hazlewood to Texas enlistments was unconstitutional. The ruling opens the door for veterans from other states to come and use the program, along with their children.

In 2009, the program cost $24 million. Now six years later, the program is costing the state $169 million. By 2019, the cost is expected to balloon to $380 million and the state says it can’t pay for it.  Most of the burden is carried by colleges, with your tax dollars or already high tuition.

“It is a requirement at this point in time that this be offered. So there’s no way out for them other than find a way to pay for it with their current budget,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who’s on the House Higher Education Committee. The House Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, gave that committee and Committee of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs an interim charge, to find a solution.

Interim Charge

  • Study the long-term viability of the Hazlewood Act, in particular the legacy tuition exemption provision.
  • Review eligibility requirements and recommend changes to ensure that the program can remain solvent.
  • Examine the costs of the program to institutions of higher education, including foregone tuition, additional infrastructure, administrative and instructional support costs, and the financial impact on nonveteran/legacy students.
  • Analyze and report any effect changes to this program would have for veterans and their families.
  • Review current data systems related to this exemption and recommend improvements to ensure quality and accuracy of information. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Higher Education)

Without a solution, Hazlewood might not be around for Grant and Danielle’s daughter.

A bill to reform the program did not pass this last session. SB 1735 by Senator Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would have required veterans to serve six years before Hazlewood benefits could be passed to dependent children. They would have 15 years to use the program or else it would expire. Children born after military service would not qualify. Lawmakers could not agree on the “legacy” portion of the program – how many benefits the children of veterans should get. 

29,000 veterans used the Hazlewood program in 2012, 36,000 in 2013, and almost 40,000 in 2014.

The state has appealed the judge’s decision.

Texas is home to a large population of the country’s veterans and therefore devotes a lot of resources to support former service members. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1.68 million veterans live in the state. That’s only second to California, which has more than 1.85 million veterans.  </sFlorida is the only other state that has more than a million veterans.

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