- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The House wants to help Arizona’s National Guard members go to college for free.

The Republican-controlled House unanimously passed the Democratic sponsored legislation Tuesday and it now moves to the Senate.

Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, said his bill would waive tuition fees for up to 16 credits per semester for Arizona National Guard members earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree at community colleges or state universities.

Cardenas, who served in the National Guard for eight years, designed the bill to replace the National Guard Postsecondary Education Reimbursement Program, which hasn’t received funding since the July 2009.

Under the proposal, Guard members would only be eligible to attend classes with open seats after registration has closed.

“If the seat’s open, the National Guard can work with the community college or state school to fill that seat,” Cardenas said.

Legislative analysts said community colleges wouldn’t lose tuition revenue because they already receive $2,400 in federal aid to cover average tuition costs for National Guard members.

However, the bill could cost universities between $400,000 and $2 million in forgone tuition, legislative analysts said.

The Republican-dominated House public safety committee also unanimously passed the bill, although some Republicans voiced concerns about the costs of the program.

Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, said he’s concerned the bill would give away money that belongs to schools.

“While I want to support the troops in every way I have a little heart burn with the idea we are cutting their funding from the state level and also by giving them an unfunded mandate here.”

The Enlisted Association National Guard of Arizona supported the bill as an incentive to enlist new soldiers and to help current soldiers and veterans obtain jobs.

“Passing House Bill 2240 is one of many ways to give back to our Arizona National Guard soldiers and airmen,” said Dean Miller, spokesman.

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