Youngkin administration denies FOIA request from member of personal job pressure

Why is Virginia Gov. Youngkin’s administration denying a FOIA request from a member of it is personal job pressure on training prices for navy survivors and dependents?

This article was reprinted with permission from Virginia Mercury. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has referred to as for extra transparency as Virginia appears to be like for brand spanking new methods to deal with the rising prices of a program that gives tuition-free faculty to spouses and kids of navy veterans killed or disabled because of their service.

However, Youngkin’s administration isn’t training full transparency itself.

Kayla Owen — a navy partner who’s additionally a member of the governor’s job pressure finding out the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program — initially submitted a FOIA request to Youngkin’s workplace for a handful of officers’ inner communications involving this system.

Her preliminary request didn’t give a time-frame, however she later narrowed it to information going again to June 2023. The administration mentioned it wouldn’t launch something.

Youngkin’s workplace is withholding the paperwork, sufficient to fill two binders, underneath a sweeping Freedom of Information Act exemption for gubernatorial “working papers and correspondence.”

Those information would make clear the Youngkin officers’ discussions about this system previous to VMSDEP being placed on the chopping block. They may additionally supply readability on what led the administration to draft a invoice that included the identical VMSDEP downsizing measures the governor now desires to undo.

“Moving ahead, we want all events on all sides to decide to transparency or there’ll by no means be enhancements and hurt will proceed to be achieved,” mentioned Owen, who lives within the Fredericksburg space. As a frontrunner of the advocacy group Friends of VMSDEP, Owen was appointed to a spot on Youngkin’s job pressure reviewing VMSDEP and its future.

Youngkin has vowed to guard this system from latest cost-cutting reforms he and the Democratic-led General Assembly authorised in May, positioning himself as veteran-friendly and keen to assist navy households that need to protect this system.

He has additionally referred to as for extra openness with affected households, who had been angered that the VMSDEP adjustments had been enacted by means of the state price range as an alternative of being proposed as a stand-alone invoice topic to extra public scrutiny.

For weeks, advocates who’ve referred to as for restoring VMSDEP to its prior state have been making an attempt to determine how and why this system’s speedy progress over the previous 5 years grew to become a significant budgetary concern.

As a part of that effort, Owen filed a FOIA request with the governor’s workplace final month.

On June 13, she requested VMSDEP-related communications involving Youngkin Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera, former Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services Daniel Gade, the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) and a number of other different officers who may probably have been concerned in coverage discussions about VMSDEP.

After a number of weeks of back-and-forth over the timeline and parameters of the request, Youngkin FOIA officer Denise Burch gave Owen a last reply on July 1. The requested information, Burch wrote, had been being “completely withheld.”

Burch didn’t say precisely what number of paperwork had been being withheld, solely that the information would fill “two Redwell folders,” an obvious reference to a sort of binder used to carry paperwork.

Virginia legislation says officers should establish the amount of information they’re withholding with “affordable particularity.” Officials usually give an actual variety of pages as an alternative of describing what number of receptacles the paperwork fill.

The legislation additionally says FOIA exemptions ought to be utilized narrowly as a way to maximize authorities transparency.

Like previous Virginia governors, Youngkin routinely invokes the working papers and correspondence exemption to protect a variety of exercise involving the governor’s workplace and cupboard secretaries. The exemption is discretionary, that means officers can select to make use of it however are additionally free to launch information that fall underneath it.

Asked why the governor’s workplace selected to not launch the information, Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez characterised the denial as routine.

“The information requested, like all related requests of [the] governor’s working papers and correspondence, are exempt underneath the FOIA statute,” Martinez mentioned. “However, the administration has been having open dialogue with the veteran and first responder communities, together with Friends of VMSDEP and all members of the Preserving VMSDEP Task Force.”

The adjustments to the VMSDEP program, meant to shrink the pool of eligible college students and produce in additional funding to public faculties and universities, would impose a stricter Virginia residency requirement, stop the waivers from getting used for superior levels or a second undergraduate diploma and require contributors to first pursue different types of monetary assist.

The program at present has round 6,400 contributors, in keeping with state information, up almost 357% from 2019.

That enhance, and this system’s estimated monetary price rising to greater than $65 million per 12 months, set off alarms amongst state officers involved about runaway progress and probably unsustainable monetary affect on faculties and universities.

General Assembly leaders reached a deal this week to reverse the cost-cutting measures and supply $65 million in every of the following two price range years. Youngkin has signaled his assist for the proposal, which is anticipated to be formally authorised when the legislature reconvenes on July 18.

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