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H.R. 476 - The G.I. Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act

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Washington, April 1, 2015 | comments

​UPDATE: As H.R. 476 unanimously passed out of the HVAC Economic Opportunity Subcommittee on April 16th, the legislation was amended to grandfather in the tuition of current flight school students for a year following passage of this legislation.

As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am working to improve the programs and opportunities offered for the men and women who served this country. Recently, I introduced a number of bills to help improve our housing and education programs, including H.R. 476, the G.I. Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act. Section 4 of this legislation, which would cap flight training fees paid for by the G.I. Bill at $20,235 a year, has received an increased amount of attention.

This issue was brought to our attention by the VA and veterans’ advocate associations, who identified a loophole in the G.I. Bill; some flight schools discovered there was no limit to what they could charge veteran students taking flight school courses. Unfortunately, as a result, some private contractors have exploited this loophole to leverage uncapped fees to charge upwards of $500,000 per student.

This has caused inflated tuition costs and fees simply because the government will pay. Because private college have a tuition cap, and public colleges do not, these private flight courses are contracted with public colleges and universities to get around the private tuition cap. Further, some students are currently taking flight training classes as electives despite never seeking a related degree. Additionally, students are also able to take flight classes over and over again if they fail to pass the first time, which can lead to increased cost to the government and veteran if their G.I. benefits run out before their classes do. On the instructor side, with unlimited funds some flight schools purchase and train with the most expensive equipment, leaving the G.I. Bill to foot the expenses.  One instructor even said the practice is “like going to driving school and using a Ferrari.”

READ: U.S. taxpayers stuck with the tab as helicopter flight schools exploit GI Bill loophole

The G.I. Bill provides generous and well deserved education benefits to our men and women who served in uniform. As an Army Reservist and Iraq War Veteran, I’ve seen the dedication and sacrifice of our troops on the battlefield and the honor our veterans deserve here at home. However, the G.I. Bill was never designed to cover such high costs.

In all other areas of the G.I. Bill, tuition is capped at $20,235 for private schools or the cost of in-state tuition at public schools per year. This is the same cap that applies for tuition and fees at all other private Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) programs like Harvard, Stanford, even private law and medical schools.

That’s exactly why my legislation, H.R. 476, is seeking to level the playing field when it comes to flight school costs under the G.I. Bill. Simply, my bill would entitle veterans who are pursuing a degree that requires flight training at an IHL the same $20,235 a year that is standard across G.I. Bill benefits, for both tuition and fees.

Current and prospective flight program enrollees should note that there is significant additional federal aid to complete their flight program.  For example, any institution that is eligible for Title IV education assistance programs can provide Pell Grants of up to approximately $5,500 per year as well as various Federally-backed loan programs and campus-based aid.  The GI Bill itself offers the Yellow Ribbon program in which VA matches a school’s contribution towards tuition and fees that exceed the cap.

H.R. 476 is a commonsense correction to ensure veterans continue to get the benefits they deserve while reining in certain out of control costs. Flight training is a noble career path, and should not be eliminated as an education opportunity for our veterans despite a few instances of operators exploiting the G.I. Bill, and I am not proposing to eliminate the ability for veterans to pursue aviation training. Instead, I am working to fight areas where the G.I. Bill benefits are being abused in order to ensure longevity of the program and that our resources are serving our veterans in their best capacity.

Numerous Veterans Service Organizations support this change, including the IAVA, VFW, and American Legion.

READ: Veterans’ paid helicopter training should be rolled back, advocates say

 

 

IAVA Supports H.R. 476

“The chief solution this legislation would provide is capping the payments that are currently being provided to some private flight schools at $20,235.02. In the last several months it has come to our attention that some veterans have taken flight training and been charged excessive fees that have been paid under their G.I. Bill benefits. This measure provides a common sense cost control for extremely high fees, that upon examinations are well above the cost intended for instruction received. In learning more about some of these scenarios and in working with the [VA] committee we agree section 4 is necessary to protect VA education benefits from abuse.”

 

VFW  Supports H.R. 476

“Section 4 places reasonable caps on the amount of tuition and fees that may be paid for flight training under GI Bill programs. Last year, it was discovered that some public institutions of higher learning commissioned flight training programs or free electives specifically targeting veterans for enrollment. According to SAAs, the reason schools are adding these programs is because of the uncapped reimbursement offered by VA for flight programs at public institutions through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VFW feels the this represents a clear abuse of the intent of Chapter 33, and that the cap created by this section is warranted.”

 

School Advocates for Veterans’ Education and Success (SAVES) Supports H.R. 476

“Current legislation authorizes unlimited payment of tuition and fees for eligible beneficiaries attending a public school. However, the high cost of some programs, such as flight training, has become unmanageable. The National Association of State Approving Agencies’ (NASAA) recommendation concerning flight training is reasonable as it relates to capping the amount the VA will pay for flight course and tuition fees each year. H.R. 476 will help level the playing field for private IHLs with flight that have been offering approved flight degree programs for decades.

“In the interest of reducing the high cost of the Post 9/11 Education programs, SAVES supports the portion of H.R. 476 regarding capping the annual amount payable for flight training. SAVES agrees that payment for flight training at institutions of higher learning be limited to only those eligible individuals enrolled in degree programs that require flight training for degree completion. Payment for flight courses should not be permitted in the case of flight training that is not specifically required as part of a standard college degree, including undeclared, undecided, general studies, liberal studies, and other similarly termed programs or statuses as it pertains to IHL public or private.”

 

National Association of State Approving Agencies

Section 4 of this bill also provides measures to improve cost control for aviation degrees offered by colleges and universities. These programs frequently involve a contracted flight school, which may or may not be approved by a state approving agency. Some public higher education institutions have instituted extreme costs for flight fees as there are presently no caps in place for public IHLs. In some cases, benefits have been paid for aviation degree programs at public IHLs provided by a third-party flight contractor with no approval issued by the governing SAA. This was exacerbated by the implementation of 3672. And some students are taking flight classes as electives with no cost cap for flight fees. In those cases, students could foreseeably take flight classes as an “undeclared” student for up to two years. This section would limit Chapter 33 payments flight programs at public institutions to prevailing cap, presently $20,235.02. There would be no impact on the institutions’ ability to access Yellow Ribbon funds. This cap would also eliminate the need to further investigate and micro-manage flight programs areas including the number of flight hours in addition to those minimally required or the types of aircrafts uses.”

 

America Legion Supports H.R. 476

“The American Legion supports measures to improve cost control for flight programs offered by colleges and universities. These programs frequently involve a contracted flight school. Some institutions of higher learning (IHL) have instituted extreme costs for flight fees as there are presently no caps in place for IHL. In some cases, benefits have been paid for aviation degree programs at IHLs provided by a third-party flight contractor with no approval issued by the governing SAA. This was exacerbated by the implementation of 3672. And some students are taking flight classes as an “undeclared” student for up to two years. The American Legion suggests limiting Chapter 33 payments flight programs at IHL to establish a cap, producing immediate cost-savings. This would eliminate the need to further investigate and micro-manage flight programs areas including the number of flight hours in addition to those minimally required or the types of aircraft used.”

 

Department of Veterans Affairs

"Section 4 would amend subsection (c)(1)(A) of section 3313 of title 38 to limit the benefits paid for pursuit of a flight-related degree program at a public IHL.  First, it would limit the amount of tuition and fees payable for a program that requires flight training at a public institution to the same amount per academic year that applies to programs at private or foreign IHLs.  Second, it would prohibit the payment of fees associated with non-required (i.e., elective) flight training.  This section would be effective the first day of a quarter, semester, or term (as applicable) after enactment. 

VA supports legislation that would limit the amount of tuition and fee payments for enrollment in flight programs.  VA is concerned about high tuition and fee payments for enrollment in degree programs involving flight training at public IHLs.  Education benefit payments for these types of programs have increased tremendously with the implementation of Pub. L 111-377, and in some cases, public institutions seem to be targeting Veterans with their flight-related training programs.

There has been a significant increase in flight training centers, specifically those that offer helicopter training, that have contracted with public IHLs to offer flight-related degrees.  Sometimes these programs charge higher prices than those that would be charged if the student had chosen to attend the vocational flight school for the same training.

Additionally, VA has noticed that a growing number of VA beneficiaries are taking flight courses as electives.    In most cases, these courses are not specifically required for the Veteran’s degree."


Texas State Approving  Agency

"Chariman Wenstrup and the HVAC Economic Opportunity Subcommittee are to be commended for their  stewardship and commitment to our veterans for moving H.R. 476 forward for House Veterans Affairs Committee consideration later this spring.  Passage of H.R. 476 restores  oversight by State Approving Agencies (SAA) removed by the implementation of Section 3672(2)(A).  In particular, the "Deemed Approved" proviso of said United States Code (USC) limited the SAA's crucial role of oversight for IHLs ... the unintended consequence being no SAA presence in the contracted flight program space.   H.R. 476 Section 4 addresses this omission and allows for the Texas SAA continued work to safeguard the Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) for current and future generations of Texas veterans.”  
 
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Tags: Veterans