Group petitions against decrease in financial aid

Sarah King
Staff Writer

A student advocacy group is circulating a petition to oppose a bill that would lower the allotted amount of financial aid the state budgets for students.

The petition is an effort to raise awareness about House Bill 30 that would cut financial aid unless policy makers assemble $25 million.

“We started the petition to make college more affordable and help students get jobs and by supporting this amendment is our goal this session,” said James Morton, the deputy director of Virginia21, a Richmond organization devoted to political advocacy for students throughout the state. The organization started the petition.

Morton said Delegate Joseph Yost (R-Giles County) introduced the amendment in the house and Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the majority leader in the Senate is pushing for the amendment in the Senate.

“The $25 million that we’re asking for in the petition would be to hold the line and run in place to meet the current need for financial aid,” Morton said.

Virginia curently covers 37 percent of financial aid. However, if HB 30 passes on March 7 that number would drop to about 33 percent.  As recently as 2010, the state covered nearly 60 percent of financial aid

The introduced budget dedicates $14.2 million to financial aid in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.  In order for the budget to not pass, Virginia would need $5.5 million more in 2015, and $19.5 million more in 2016.

Saslaw and Yost support budget amendments that would allocate an extra $5.5 million in 2015, and Saslaw supports dedicating an extra $19.5 million in 2016.

Morton said that in a just a few weeks the petition had already garnered more than 2,000 signatures, but the organization has not dropped it off with the General Assembly yet because they are in the middle of the budget session.

Morton said other ways to further cost savings would be by dedicating five of the $25 million each year to supporting the expansion of the Community College Transfer Grant Program or providing greater support for work-study programs.

Vikhyath Veeramachaneni, the president of the Student Government Association, said he pushed for students and the SGA to also sign the Virginia21 petition and targeted students on the Rams Day on the Hill event that was held on Feb. 25.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that one of my biggest jobs as president is to do a lot of lobbying,” Veeramachaneni said. “I met with the governor for the second time yesterday … this is really important.”

The General Assembly’s budget session ends March 7.

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