Lawmakers add funding to scholarship for children of wartime veterans

New emails show Governor’s staff approved letter about scholarship cuts weeks before reversing course

Lawmakers pass scholarship bill

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina General Assembly unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would appropriate an additional $2.4 million in funding for a state scholarship for children of wartime veterans.

The bill was introduced in Tuesday’s one-day legislative session following a series of stories by WBTV that exposed issues with the scholarship.

More than 1,000 students that receive the scholarship--including students whose parents were killed or injured in combat--were notified the week of Thanksgiving that the room and board allowance promised to them at the start of the school year would be cut in half. Some schools had already given students a credit based on the promised amount.

Because of the letter sent in late November, families were sent scrambling during the holiday season and at the start of college finals to re-work finances and figure out how to make up the difference.

“It was like my whole life was kind of thrown into the balance now,” Mikayla Luke, a scholarship recipient who attends ECU, said at the time.

“It’s like, what to do, you know? We got to dig into retirement savings, are we going to have to dig into our emergency fund?” Mikayla’s father, Jim Luke, said. “You know, on top of everything else and the normal bills that come along. And the washer broke and you know, it’s just another thing piling on in the holiday season. Oh wow, Merry Christmas!”

Two weeks after WBTV exposed the sudden cuts to the scholarship, Governor Roy Cooper announced he had ordered the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs--the agency that administers the scholarship--to pay the full promised amount.

The room and board stipends had to be cut because the legislature did not renew a $2.4 million additional appropriation to the scholarship that had been allocated the year before.

Emails provided by DMVA show House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and his staff ignored multiple requests from the agency for the additional money during the 2019 legislative session.

In an interview about his decision to pay the full amount of the scholarship despite the cuts, Cooper said his administration was making up the difference by taking money set aside for the spring semester to pay the fall semester’s stipend, which required lawmakers to approve the extra money in Tuesday’s vote.

“When it became apparent that they (the legislature) weren’t going to do it, I told both the Office of Management and Budget and the Secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs that it is unconscionable that the General Assembly would leave these students high and dry and we had to find some way to do it,” Cooper said in December.

But new emails produced to WBTV by the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management in response to a public records request show Cooper’s senior staff--including Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and his senior adviser Ken Eudy--signed off on the November letter announcing the cuts.

When asked Tuesday why Cooper’s senior staff signed off on telling students their scholarship would be cut weeks before ordering the funding restored, a spokeswoman couldn’t provide an answer.

“Before that solution was reached, the Governor’s office worked with DMVA and the state budget office to accurately communicate the impact and reason for the cuts in the November letter so that colleges could begin invoicing DMVA,” Cooper’s communications director, Sadie Weiner, said in a statement. “What matters now is that the legislature has finally acted to fully fund these scholarships.”

None of the emails produced by OSBM show staff had been asked to research the possibility of paying the full amount of the scholarship before Cooper’s office first signed off on a letter telling students their scholarship would be cut.

After the bill was approved in the House on Tuesday, Moore highlighted the bipartisan nature of the vote to approve the additional funds.

“This is a great story where we had a great bipartisan bill passing this unanimously,” Moore said. “We knew it was a critical need, we knew there was a shortfall, so, I kept my word and we did it.”

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