PRESIDENT CARTER will soon receive the GI Bill Improvement Act. As passed by Congress, the proposed legislation raises the educational benefits of verterans by 6.6 per cent in cost-of-living increases. It also recognizes that the disparity in tuition costs in different areas of the country has been preventing veterans in high-cost states from enrolling in colleges or training schools.
On the surface, the legislation has the appearance of generosity and fairness, and few in Congress were against the final version. That is one of the reasons the President will surely sign it. Who, in these inflationary times, would be against denying veterans a modest 6.6 per cent increase in educational benefits? We think he should sign it, but not without using the occasion to point out that parts of the new law - beneath the surface - are likely to be so unworkable that corrective legislation is needed. We refer to the requirement that states must match dollar for dollar the federal contribution in tuition aid above $700. As Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) said, this provision is "tantamount to saying there will be no help for veterans. Few, if any, states can afford to meet the current costs of higher education, much less come up with additional appropriations." This matching requirement is the first time that any part of GI benefits from the federal government have been conditional on the states' prerequisite contribution.Apparently, veterans weren't serving just their country - they were serving their statehouses, too.
Before it was "quietly emasculated," as Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) noted, the Senate bill gave veterans $66 for every $100 of tuition above $700. That is what the President should immediately press for. Veterans should not be forced to be spectators at the matching-grant game. It is all too possible for them to be left dangling while the state government tries to come up with the $33 to match the federal $33. If the state fails to match the federal allotment, the "grant" remains a loan. The rationale for involving states in the educational expenses incurred by its veterans is the feeling that states with high tuitions are not spending enough for higher education. But when expenditures for private higher education are included, the balance evens out. The new matching requirement alters the approach of the World War II GI Bill, in which state and private colleges and technical schools were given large cash incentives to enroll verterans.
A second deficiency that the President should ask to be corrected by new legislation involves the loan aspect of the bill. The Senate version of the bill forgave the veteran 66 2/3 per cent of his loan over $700 as he successfully finished each year of schooling. But the bill now before the President forgives 66 2/3 only if the veteran successfully completes the whole program - as much as four years. Thus, veterans who must leave school early for one legitimate reason or another must carry the full weight of the loan. This, plus the fact that a state has five years to come in with its matching monies, creates uncertainties that are its matching monies, creates uncertainties that are likely to discourage many from using the program.
A final unfortunate weakness in the bill before the President invoves extending the period during which a veteran can use his benefits. It grants two additional years, but veterans who take advantage of this extension would be given only loans (with no forgiveness) rather than the outright cash assistance that the Senate bill contained. Needy veterans can already apply for loans from federal agencies other than the Veterans Administration.
These are a few of the deficiencies that we think do little to serve the Vietnam veteran wishing to educate himself. It is regrettable that they are included in legislation that otherwise takes into consideration that inequities do exist in the GI Bill as it has been enforced since 1966. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) deserves credit for persuading the House Veterans Committee to accept the principle, at least, that equal dollars do not constitute equal educational opportunity, particularly in high-cost states. That principle, now that it is established, is worth preserving. That is why it's important that the President sign the bill. But it is equally important that he take that opportunity to serve notice of an intention to seek further legislation next year to correct its deficiencies.