The Senate Education Committee today advanced legislation (S-1057) sponsored by Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove that would clarify the original intent of the Legislature by closing a loophole used by certain county colleges to deny volunteer emergency personnel tuition assistance under the state’s volunteer tuition credit program.
The volunteer tuition credit program provides a tuition credit benefit of up to $2,400 over four years to active members of a volunteer fire company, volunteer first aid or rescue squad or association and the dependent children and spouse of such members.
“This legislation is in direct response to complaints from emergency service personnel volunteers who feel that they are unjustifiably being denied entry into community college classes,” said Senator Connors. “Evidently, some county colleges are interpreting the word ‘transcript, ‘ under the existing law, to deny volunteer personnel reimbursement for non-credit courses. That is inconsistent with the Legislature’s original intent to include credit and non-credit courses. Our Delegation’s legislation would eliminate any uncertainty and clarify for all community colleges that they cannot limit what courses volunteers are eligible for beyond what existing law states.”
Under the program, eligible members may enroll in a postsecondary program at a county college, county vocational school or county technical institute, provided that available classroom space permits and that tuition paying students constitute the minimum number required for the course.
“Not only do volunteer emergency personnel provide critical services to safeguard the public, they help keep property taxes down by donating their time and expertise for emergency services that would otherwise be performed by salaried personnel,” said Assemblyman Rumpf. “Our Delegation is concerned that permitting community colleges to continue sidestepping the intent of the volunteer tuition credit program will ultimately detract from what has proven to be an effective recruiting tool used by fire companies and first aid squads.”
Assemblywoman Gove went on to add, “Actions taken by certain community colleges are eroding a valuable incentive used not only to recruit emergency personnel but that also expresses gratitude on behalf of the residents these selfless individuals protect and serve. While most volunteer personnel don’t donate their time solely to become eligible for the tuition credit program, it still is an obligation the state must ensure is fulfilled to these individuals. As a former educator of more than 30 years, I support the tuition credit program’s purpose to reward volunteer emergency personnel by offering them and eligible family members the opportunity to pursue their higher education goals.”
The identical bill, A-2451, sponsored by Assemblyman Rumpf and Assemblywoman Gove, has been referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee.