Capitol Alert

Tuition perk meant to keep citizen soldiers in uniform may be driving them out

A tuition perk meant to boost retention in the California National Guard is not working as intended, according to a new report from the Legislative Analyst Office. Here, troops leaving the military meet with recruiters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State.
A tuition perk meant to boost retention in the California National Guard is not working as intended, according to a new report from the Legislative Analyst Office. Here, troops leaving the military meet with recruiters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State. McClatchy file, 2014

A perk that lawmakers granted to citizen soldiers six years ago to keep them in uniform may actually speed their separations from the military, according to a review of the program released this week.

The report shows that National Guard and state Military Reserve members who accept state-funded educational grants are slightly more likely to leave the military than their counterparts.

That’s one of the findings that led the Legislative Analyst’s Office to recommend ending California’s National Guard education assistance award program, which doles out about $2.6 million a year in tuition grants for part-time military service members.

Lawmakers cited two big goals when they created the program with a provision in a 2010 budget bill. They wanted to give citizen soldiers an incentive to continue serving in the National Guard, and they wanted to help the state Military Department freshen up its workforce by providing educational opportunities for its employees.

But, the legislative analyst report said, “the available data does not show that the program is effective at retaining members or increasing their skills and education.”

The state Military Department has not defined what kind of skills its workforce is missing, making it difficult to determine if the grants are working as intended.

Also, the analyst found that the grants are not competitive. Everyone who applies for one by its deadline gets one

Military service members and their dependents can receive a plethora of federal educational benefits, mostly notably the G.I. Bill.

Those benefits swelled after the terrorist attacks of 2001, but may be reduced in the future as Congress tries to scale down defense spending. One bill moving through Congress this year, for instance, would cut into a housing allowance veterans receive while they’re in college, saving up to $3.4 billion a year.

The state program requires only that participants remain in the National Guard or state Military Reserve as long as they’re receiving tuition assistance.

The program is due to expire at the end of 2019. The legislative analysis urges lawmakers to not renew it and to develop a more targeted program if they want to boost National Guard retention.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton

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