Liberty University sues state over budget amendments

The complaint alleges that amendments to Virginia’s 2020 budget wrongly exclude online students from receiving the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant.

Liberty University sues state over budget amendments
Liberty University (Source: WDBJ)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Liberty University has filed a complaint against Governor Ralph Northam and the Director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia “to defend the equal protection rights of Virginia-based students.”

The complaint alleges that amendments to Virginia’s 2020 budget wrongly exclude online students from receiving the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant.

Since 1973, VTAG funding has been available to all Virginia students, whether online or residential. For the first time, the 2020 Virginia Budget excluded awards to new students enrolled “in an online education or distance learning program.”

LU says the amendments treat two students taking the same class differently depending on if they are classified as part of an “online program” or a “place-based” program; the schools say this is unconstitutional discrimination.

“For the past 20 years, online resources have proven an increasingly important tool that higher education institutions employ to educate students, and the VTAG program has played an important role in making higher education available to all Virginia students regardless of their circumstances,” said Jerry Prevo, acting president of Liberty.

The school said the move is especially troubling considering the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many educational institutions to take learning online.

Liberty’s lawsuit seeks to have Virginia students who pursue “online education or distance learning” be treated the same as Virginia students who pursue “place-based” education when it comes to awarding VTAG funds.

“Students often elect to enroll at Liberty and other academic institutions offering online courses for the flexibility and accessibility they need as non-traditional students who are working parents, parents providing child care, military members and veterans, first responders, and economically disadvantaged students. Online courses have also provided educational access for students whose health or medical issues make on-campus attendance impractical, as well as others who require flexibility in terms of where and when they access educational materials. The 2020 VTAG amendments harm all of these groups, and others,” added Prevo.

The case, currently pending in the United States District Court For The Western District Of Virginia Lynchburg Division, is titled: LIBERTY UNIVERSITY, on its own behalf and on behalf of its students and prospective students, v. RALPH NORTHAM, in his official capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of VA, and PETER BLAKE, in his official capacity as Director of SCHEV, Case No. 6:21CV00002.

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