SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Two bills concerning tuition for South Dakota National Guard members and the spouses and children of members disabled or deceased in the line of duty were heard in committee Wednesday afternoon.
HB-1039 would provide 100% tuition benefit for National Guard members at technical schools and Board of Regent schools in South Dakota. This would be an increase from the current 50% tuition program offered through the South Dakota National Guard.
South Dakota is one of only several states in the nation to not offer 100% tuition for Guard members.
Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) stated the importance of the state retaining Guard members. “Incentive structures matter,” Nesiba said. “We need to pass this bill. Details can be worked out next year. At the moment, the most important thing is that we pass this bill on in the form that it is.”
An amendment that add requirements for eligibility carried. Individuals must meet the following qualifications to receive the tuition assistance:
- Be a member of the Air Guard or National Guard
- Have completed basic training
- Go to drill
- Maintain successful academic progress
- Inform the institution that they will receive this scholarship
According to proponents, this bill would benefit the Guard by providing another incentive for recruitment and retention. It would also mean a more educated fighting force. Additionally, school enrollment would increase as service members would attend South Dakota schools over online schools.
Tim Dougherty, a lobbyist representing South Dakota’s private schools such as Augustana University, Mount Marty, and the University of Sioux Falls, noted his hope for private institutions to be included in the “not-too-distant future,” as private schools are not included in the bill.
“We have students in our institutions who are Guard members, and we believe they should benefit from this program,” Dougherty said. He noted that the number of students eligible for the bill’s benefits is not large enough to be too much of an extra expense.
The bill will move directly to the House of Representatives floor with do pass recommendation since money associated with this bill is in the governor’s budget.
A second bill, HB-1046, would provide free tuition at technical institutions in the state for children or spouses of South Dakota National Guard members disabled or deceased in the line of duty.
Currently, this opportunity only exists at Board of Regent schools. This bill would ensure the educational benefits that are available to veterans and dependents are more accessible.
The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that the impact would be minimal, affecting fewer than five people a year, but a representative stated it should be an option for those who would be eligible.
Justin Smith, lobbyist for the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, was a proponent of the bill. “We appreciate anything that expands their educational opportunities,” Smith said.
The bill now goes to the floor with do pass recommendation.