Grayson Gladden, a senior with an intellectual disability at Albertville High School, has a dream of going to Auburn University and participating in the Eagles program, a special college experience for folks just like him.
His father John Gladden, the color man on Albertville football broadcasts, is a disabled veteran from the Gulf War era. In Alabama, dependents of disabled veterans are eligible for college scholarships.
But the scholarship law was written in 1947, dating back to the time when GIs from World War II were coming home. And it required students to pursue a traditional college degree to be eligible for the funds.
Rep. Kerry Rich of Marshall County aims to change that and his bill to allow special needs students to receive disabled veterans scholarships is on track for passage. It passed unanimously in the House and was expected to come up in the Senate late this week or early next week. Sen. Clay Scofield will carry the torch for it there.
“It is one of the best bills I have ever carried, because we know the young man who is going to be impacted,” Sen. Scofield said. “It puts a face with the program.”
He said he and Rep. Rich has worked hard to fast track this bill as they just learned about the situation impacting Grayson while the session was underway.
Rep. Rich said Grayson applied for a disabled veteran scholarship only to find out it didn’t cover special needs students.
“What this bill does is provide scholarships that will be good for these programs,” Rep. Rich said. “He will get to go to school. It’s not a regular degree, but he will take some regular classes and he will also take classes under the Auburn Eagles program. This is a specially designed program. The University of Alabama has a similar program.”
Rep. Rich said he doesn’t know how many other students it will impact, but he’s sure others will receive the same benefit over time.
“For starters, a child must be the dependent of a disabled veteran,” he said. “Then we are talking about special needs students. But there’s no doubt it will also help some other kids.”
He said the Gladdens “are a good family” and he was very happy to help after they explained the Catch-22 to Marshall County legislative office director Jennifer Palmer.
“As soon as I heard what was going on, I said, ‘We need to fix this,’” Rep. Rich said.
The session ends May 17. There’s not been a single negative vote against Rep. Rich’s bill on this issue so far. He feels pretty good that it will receive final passage with Sen. Scofield seeing it through the Senate.