Going back to college, or pursuing professional development? Let your education benefits pay
By SHERRY HALBROOK
The Voucher program is back.

In fact, the educational benefit options have been improved under the PS&T contract and are up and running for the 2009-10 contract year.

The educational benefits are funded by money negotiated by PEF and the state and set aside in contract Article 15. The benefits are administered jointly by PEF and the state through the Professional Development Committee (PDC).

Two programs help pay for college courses and are available to all PS&T employees for this fiscal year.
 They are the Voucher Program and the College Tuition Reimbursement (CTR) Program. A third program, the Voucher Alternative (VALT) Program, reimburses registration fees for workshops, seminars and conferences.

A maximum of two courses per member will covered in 2009-10 through either the Voucher or the CTR program or a combination of both.

“If you have used any of these programs in the past, you know how valuable they can be,” said PEF Director of Education and Human Resources Clifford Merchant. “Most PEF members have invested considerable time and money in their educations and building their professional skills. These educational programs are a great way to support that continuing effort.”

Voucher Program
The Voucher Program:
• Provides vouchers to current eligible PS&T Unit employees for qualifying courses, taken at participating schools, between May 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010;
• No applications postmarked before May 1, 2009, will be accepted;
• Applications should be submitted before registration, but must be postmarked within 10 days after the course starts;
• Only credit-bearing courses at participating colleges and universities are eligible;
• Vouchers are limited to two per employee for fiscal 2009-2010;
• $600 is the maximum voucher value for an undergraduate course of up to three credit hours;
• $725 is the maximum voucher value for an undergraduate course of four credit hours or more; and
• $1,200 is the maximum voucher value for a graduate course.

College Tuition Reimbursement
Under prior PS&T contracts, if the college the member attended did not participate in the Voucher Program, the only reimbursement the member could receive was a maximum of $600 per year under the VALT Program.

However, starting with this contract year, the CTR Program is reimbursing tuition for college courses taken at accredited schools not participating in the Voucher Program. Maximum reimbursement is at the same levels as provided under the Voucher Program.

Other important provisions of the CTR include:
• It reimburses current PS&T Unit employees for qualifying courses that began on or after April 1, 2009, through March 31, 2010;
• Applications must be postmarked no later than 60 days after the course ends;
• Only courses in which you receive a passing grade are eligible for reimbursement;
• Only courses at accredited colleges and universities are eligible;
• Up to two courses in fiscal year 2009-2010 may be reimbursed;
• $600 is the maximum reimbursement for an undergraduate course of up to three credit hours;
• $725 is the maximum reimbursement for an undergraduate course of four credit hours or more; and
• $1,200 is the maximum reimbursement for a graduate course.

Voucher Alternative (VALT):
• Provides reimbursement to current PS&T Unit employees for qualifying conferences, workshops, seminars, and non-credit-bearing courses by accredited providers that began on or after April 1, 2009, through March 31, 2010;

• Applications must be postmarked no later than 60 days after the end of the course;
• You must successfully complete the non-credit course work, workshops, or seminars to be eligible for reimbursement;
• $600 is the maximum VALT reimbursement per employee for fiscal year 2009-2010.

Benefits may be taxable
Merchant cautioned that, although local, state and federal income tax codes are always subject to change, any educational benefits you receive by virtue of your employee status may be taxable. The Office of the State Comptroller typically waits until late fall to withhold from your pay the taxes for such benefits.
 
Currently, educational benefits must exceed $5,200 per year to be considered a taxable fringe benefit. However, tax laws may change.

You may want to consult a professional tax advisor. Or, for further information, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040, or consult the IRS home page online at www.irs.gov.


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