Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from general file Feb. 16 intended to enhance the state tuition support program for Nebraska National Guard members.
The program, which provides a 100 percent undergraduate tuition credit to Nebraska National Guard members who enroll in any state-supported university, college, community college or accredited, nonprofit independent college, currently is capped at $900,000 annually.
As introduced, LB52, sponsored by Central City Sen. Loren Lippincott, would have raised the cap to $1 million. Lippincott said the existing cap has been in place since 1999.
“The state tuition assistance [program] is one of the most popular benefits the Nebraska National Guard offers,” he said. “As service members improve themselves through education, our National Guard units become more professional and more capable.”
The program also provides a 50 percent tuition credit for graduate and professional degrees.
Lippincott said that unless the cap is raised, approximately 29 Nebraska National Guard members could be denied assistance for the upcoming spring semester.
Kearney Sen. John Lowe offered an amendment, adopted 32-0, to remove the cap entirely.
Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln supported the bill and the amendment, while also raising concerns about the ability of all Nebraskans to afford tuition should it increase due to insufficient funding of higher education in the state budget.
“It’s important that we don’t divorce these issues from each other,” Conrad said. “We can’t neglect to do our part to ensure that our institutions of higher education have the resources they need to benefit not only the brave men and women who serve … but all Nebraskans who are trying to better their lives and increase their opportunities to be successful in a global economy.”
Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh also supported the bill and the amendment.
“A lot of folks join [the guard] and serve as a way to pay for school, so we need to make sure that every one of those people gets that benefit,” he said.
Following adoption of the Lowe amendment, senators voted 34-0 to advance LB52 to select file.