Texas did not violate the constitution by limiting its offer of a free education at public universities to veterans who were state residents when they joined the military, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
The decision reverses a January 2015 ruling by a lower court that found the state law that limited the college tuition benefit unconstitutional. A veteran who enlisted in Georgia and moved to Texas after he left the military challenged the law’s Texas enlistment requirement, reported the Houston Chronicle.
The appeals court ruled that the state has the right to regulate its own education system.
“Because Texas has presented a rational basis for its residency-at-enlistment requirement and because Texas’s decision to impose the condition on a portable benefit does not infringe [Kevin] Harris’s right to travel, we reverse the district court’s judgment,” the court stated.
Last week’s ruling comes as a tremendous relief to Texas officials who feared the cost of the veterans tuition benefit would skyrocket if the lower court’s decision stood. One estimate made last year projected it could cost Texas universities $2 billion annually in tuition if veterans were to start moving to Texas to take advantage of the ruling.
In 2009, the legislature expanded the benefit to allow veterans to transfer unused college credits to their children. Since then the cost for public universities has increased as thousands more students took advantage of the program, reaching $169 million in 2014.
John Sheppard, the plaintiff’s attorney, said it is likely he would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the story.
“It’s not only important to veterans. If the state can permanently discriminate based on when you got to Texas using the same rationale, they can deny people access to public schools or to emergency rooms or to welfare benefits,” Sheppard said.