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Virginia Senate punts on addressing VMSDEP changes

Commissioner Zingler, Secratries Crenshaw and Guidera sit in front of the Virginia and American flags
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Secretary of Veteran and Defense Affairs Craig Crenshaw, center, listens along with Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services Chuck Zingler, left, and Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera during a Preserving Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program Task Force meeting on Monday, June 10, 2024 at Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia.

The House of Delegates meets June 28. Virginia’s next budget starts July 1.

The Virginia Senate convened Tuesday to take up recent changes and programmatic cuts to the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program — but left without taking any action and isn’t set to discuss it as a full chamber until roughly when the new fiscal year begins.

Ahead of Tuesday’s session, senators filed two bills to tackle the issue: one to fully repeal the recent changes, and another detailing a partial repeal. They didn’t vote on either proposal — but plan to reconvene again to address the issue on or before July 1.

Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas (D–Portsmouth) announced during Tuesday’s Senate Finance committee meeting that her legislative proposal — which called for a partial repeal of the VMSDEP changes — would not be heard on the floor. Another bill carried by state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R–Spotsylvania) calling for a full repeal of the changes did not make it to the Senate floor for a vote, either.

“We are still working on a long-term solution,” Lucas said. “All of us want to protect this program. We will work together to find a responsible solution.”

Lucas instead announced a workgroup separate from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s task force, which met last week, to address the issue made up of several state senators and chaired by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D–Arlington County). That workgroup is expected to meet June 28, the same day the House of Delegates is scheduled to discuss a full repeal of the program’s changes proposed by Del. Luke Torian (D–Prince William County).

Del. Torian listens during a meeting
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William listens during a Preserving Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program Task Force meeting on Monday, June 10, 2024 at Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Virginia.

“We've allowed this disease, this mold to grow on good policy,” said Reeves, a veteran, on the Senate floor. “We are going to have to rely, unfortunately, on our friends in the House to clean this matter up. And the real victims in this whole thing are going to be those families that are affected by it.”

As VPM News previously reported, changes to the military education benefits program made it into Virginia’s approved budget draft on May 13, creating immediate hardships for some VMSDEP-eligible families — including a May 15 deadline to be exempted for the upcoming academic year.

Members of the military community like veteran Caitlin Goodale-Porter, whose children benefited from the VMSDEP tuition waiver program, were disappointed with Tuesday’s outcome.

“We have been fighting this tooth and nail for months and we are hurting,” said Goodale-Porter. “We need support now. Not in September.”

Youngkin sent out a statement late Tuesday that he stands “with our military heroes, first responders, and their families today who are stunned that Senate Democrat leadership failed to even consider a simple bill, supported by a bipartisan majority of Senators, to reverse the changes to VMSDEP by fully repealing the language, and addressing this in the full light of day. These men and women deserve so much better.”

Virginia’s fiscal year runs from July 1–June 30.

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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