Some fallen first responders' children not getting tuition aid due to loophole

Image 1 of 3

The wife of a fallen police officer thought she would be getting help - but found out her family won't be getting the benefit of help with tuition bills.

A law in the books is supposed to take care of in-state college tuition for the families of fallen officers and firefighters, but there's a loophole that two freshman lawmakers want to tie up to make sure no family is left behind.

It's been a tough journey for Yvonne Sawyers-Swanson. In 2004, her husband Mark, a Sterling Heights police officer was shot and killed in his police vehicle. The suspect ran off, and died by suicide before he was caught. 

She is pushing for legislation that would make sure all children of fallen officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty, have college taken care of at any public university in Michigan. 

But because of the way the law is written, her daughter Lily, now 16, will not get the benefit. 

"My daughter, she has always lost her father. She has to fight through that every day of her life and this is one way to help those kids get a step up in life," she said. "I have moved forward with my life, I have remarried, and I have gotten full-time appointment, it's been 15 years since my husband passed and now my daughter is no longer eligible for that tuition grant."

The legislation on the books in Michigan guarantees free college tuition only if the household income is less than a certain amount -- essentially they have to be at 400 percent of the poverty line. For a family of four, that means $97,000 a year or less.  
State Representative Matt Koleszar is sponsoring the bill to change that, along with representative Nate Shannon. 

"If the family has gone and has financially done well for themselves, their children's circumstance has not changed," said Koleszar (D). "They still lost a parent and we should still absolutely value that memory and allow their children to go to college, tuition free, as the state's way of saying thank you."

While many still receive the money even when they don't fit the income requirement, their bill would take away the salary provision and make sure it is guaranteed for all families of first responders who lost a loved one in the line of duty. 

"A family of four making $97,000 a year when it comes to college costs really isn't that much money. And the unintended consequence is that widows may not get remarried, may not take job promotions, they may have to quit their jobs."

Plymouth fire department's fire chief says this is a no brainer.  

"Knowing their family will be taken care of in the event something tragic happens is vitally important to them," said Chief Daniel Phillips. "You don't like them so you don't want them second-guessing what they're doing out on the streets, you want them focused on their job knowing their family will be well taken care of."

Koleszar and Shannon hope people will support this bill, not having to look further than Lily. The loss is still tough, 15 years later.  

"I think it's important that we continue to uphold that promise, of that tuition grant for those children so knowing that it has been many years of struggle for them, to find themselves and to continue on."

| More Information: CLICK HERE