State Assembly Democrats voted to table legislation that would give free SUNY tuition to Gold Star families earlier this month. At a news conference on the front steps of Malverne American Legion Post 44 on April 16, County Legislator William Gaylor, who serves Malverne, said he found it unacceptable that Gold Star families — relatives of U.S. military members who died in combat — are not getting the support they need.
“We can do more and we should do more,” Gaylor said. “I’m committed to doing everything in my power to make this right.”
Gaylor, along with other local elected officials, proposed legislation that would provide free tuition to any college in Nassau County for Gold Star families. Announcement of the plan came weeks after State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick announced $27 million to support the State DREAM Act, which will provide access to scholarships and financial aid for undocumented immigrants.
“Our legislation goes a step further,” said Gaylor, who served in the Army for more than 20 years and rose to lieutenant colonel. “This is just the first step.”
Sons of Malverne American Legion member Frank Colon, who is Rockville Centre’s Post 303 commander, said that veterans from around the community supported the bill.
“It’s important that we support everyone in this program and Gold Star parents for their children to make sure they’re getting proper funding for their schooling,” Ralph Esposito, director of the Nassau County Veterans Agency, said at the news conference. “We thank all the legislators for their dynamic support for this bill.”
Andrea Nordquist, a member of the Blue Star Mothers of America, a nonprofit organization that provides support for mothers who have children in the military, also spoke about the bill’s importance. Her son, Gregory, is serving in the Air National Guard at Westhampton Beach, and is also a police officer with the Nassau County Police Department.
“I would like to say that as a Blue Star mom, speaking for all of the Blue Star moms and Gold Star families, these Gold Star families gave up a lot,” Nordquist said. “It’s almost a no-brainer why we’re not doing everything we can to say thank you to these Gold Star families. It doesn’t take the place of a loved one who doesn’t return home, but it definitely will help them in the long run.”
County Legislator John Ferretti Jr. said that tabling the proposal for free state tuition added insult to injury. “I’m very proud to be a member of the majority under [Presiding Officer] Rich Nicolello, joining with Bill Gaylor to make sure that our Nassau first responders and Gold Star veterans get the education they deserve,” Ferretti said.
Eric Spinner, vice commander of Elmont American Legion Post 1033, said that Gaylor’s proposed bill seemed like an “instant replay” of the earlier proposal — and that he hoped the results would be different this time. “It’s time for our legislators to step up, and I’m glad Nassau County is doing that,” Spinner said. “Let’s keep this going. I’m proud to be a part of this organization.”
Esposito said that elected officials are usually bipartisan when it comes to legislation that focuses on veterans. “When they enlist, they sign a check that they may never come back again,” he said. “These men gave their lives, and their families deserve this. This is a great opportunity for all of us to show how much we all care about our veterans.”
The proposed bill is expected to be voted on next month.