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The Air Force has budgeted roughly half as much money for tuition assistance in fiscal 2014 as it expects to spend this fiscal year. But as in previous years, the service may be able to find additional money from other accounts to pay for tuition assistance.
“Once we get more fidelity on the FY14 budget, we can reassess funding levels for tuition assistance as necessary,” Col. Jeff White, chief of the Air Force Learning Division, said in an email.
Currently, the Air Force has budgeted $102 million for tuition assistance next fiscal year, service officials said. For fiscal 2013, the service initially budgeted $128 million. By March, it had already spent $105 million, prompting service officials to set aside another $90 million to fund the program for the entire year. It is not yet known how much of the extra money has been spent so far, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Erika Yepsen said.
As of Oct. 1, new rules will be effective for tuition assistance, including a requirement that airmen get permission from their supervisors before taking classes and a restriction prohibiting airmen who have been cited for poor performance from taking classes until the action against them has been resolved.
“Airmen may be in a situation where it’s just not right for them to take a class because of other constraints on them, so in order to manage better, the management controls were put on,” Kimberly Yates, chief of Air Force voluntary education, told Air Force Times.
The Air Force does not know yet if fewer airmen will be eligible for tuition assistance under the new rules, Yates said in an Aug. 29 interview.
Airmen were outraged when the Air Force and other military services suspended tuition assistance in March due to steep budget cuts known as sequestration. A little more than two weeks later, service members had created such an uproar that Congress required the services to bring tuition assistance back, although lawmakers did not provide them with extra money to do so.
The Air Force resumed tuition assistance in April.
Because the Air Force had to take money from elsewhere this fiscal year, funding that could have been used to keep two squadrons flying went instead to tuition assistance. However, the service believes it has budgeted enough money for fiscal 2014 to meet demand, so there should not be any trade-offs, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said.
“We want that opportunity to remain available to our airmen,” Cody said in an Aug. 29 interview. “We know how important it is to them. It’s important to our Air Force. It’s certainly a force multiplier when our Air Force is more educated. So that is something we valued before, we value today and we will continue to value in the future.”
Stephen Losey contributed to this report.