Liberty College is suing the governor over grant modifications

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – Liberty University sued Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Friday, Jan. 8, accusing his government of wrongly refusing to fund some online evangelical school students.

It’s about a budget change that Northam and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly made last year that resulted in incoming students enrolled exclusively in online programs not being eligible for the long-running state-run resident tuition support program from Virginia were eligible.

The change did not apply to students who had to postpone their studies online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Liberty’s students, who have a tremendous and lucrative online presence, have been the primary recipients of the scholarship for years, and the change became a sore point for the university and its former President Jerry Falwell Jr., who repeatedly attacked Northam.

The lawsuit alleges that the eligibility changes were specifically designed to harm Liberty and “cause serious economic and reputational damage” to the school.

It called on the court to stop excluding online students from the scholarship program as it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal treatment clause “because there is no rational basis for distinguishing between” online “and” place-based “education . “

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in the western district of Virginia, also names Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, as a defendant. The state agency manages the administration of the grant.

“Governor Northam has made expanding access to affordable, quality education a top priority. We do not comment on any pending litigation, ”Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the council, Laura Osberger, also said she could not comment.
The non-on-demand scholarship program, established in 1972, helps meet college expenses for Virginia residents who are enrolled full-time at participating private nonprofits.

Yarmosky said in January, when lawmakers accepted Northam’s budget proposal, that the program was specifically designed to address college-related “inpatient” costs such as housing. Northam’s proposal increased the grant amount for dormitory students.

“Naturally, online programs don’t cause the same countless inpatient costs,” she said at the time.

Falwell, who resigned from his role at Liberty in August after a series of personal scandals, often railed against the changes, including at a joint press conference with West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, at which the two counties of Virginia encouraged each other to withdraw and join their GOP governed neighbor.

Falwell later referred to the tuition cuts as a justification for a tweet he posted that sparked a blackface scandal that nearly forced Northam out of office.

In the face of a backlash for the tweet, which he eventually apologized for and which he deleted, Falwell said his reference to the scandal was made in defense of Liberty students, including minorities, who would be affected by the changes. Falwell said his involvement in politics was in the spirit of Jesus Christ “who was not silent about the mainstream political people of his time”.

Liberty has since launched its own aid program to replace the state money: David Corry, Liberty’s general counsel, said the school awarded around $ 1.6 million to 552 students in the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year.

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