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Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  The Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on functions performed by State Approving Agencies (SAA) will come to order.

Before I begin with my opening statement, I would like to call to attention to the fact that Ms. Jean Morse, President of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has asked to submit a written statement for the record on behalf of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions.  If there is no objection I ask for unanimous consent that this statement be entered for the record.

Today we will be hearing testimony on State Approving Agencies.  The authority of SAAs was established by Congress in 1947 to ensure that veterans and eligible dependents can use the G.I. Bill educational entitlement in an approved educational program.  Under contract with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), the key function of SAAs is to ensure that education and training programs meet VA standards through a range of approval activities, such as: conducting on-site visits, evaluating course quality, assessing school financial stability, and monitoring student progress.

Every state assesses each program as to its own standards and laws in addition to the VA rules and regulations, with all approved programs undergoing continuous supervision.  The programs that can be approved include colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools, flight schools, apprenticeship programs, and other on-the-job training programs.  In addition, SAAs engage in outreach activities to foster the usage of the G.I. Bill.

This year, my home state of South Dakota is expecting to have approximately 2,100 eligible people enrolled in G.I. Bill eligible programs.  These programs are now found in 47 schools and 192 training establishments in my state.  I have a strong interest in exploring the subject before us today to improve the availability of educational benefits for our men and women in uniform.

I understand there are concerns about the funding change that is about to occur for SAAs.  From fiscal years 2003 to 2006, their funding increased from $13 million to $19 million to expand services.  However, the funding level for SAAs is scheduled to decrease beginning in fiscal year 2008.

According to a recent report, the Government Accountability Office concluded that there was overlap between the efforts of SAAs and the other federal agencies.  While VA spends $19 million to fund SAA duties and functions, it does not track the amount it spends on specific SAA activities, especially those that may also be performed by other agencies.  I am very interested in hearing your insights on how these concerns are being addressed.