Trying to Save TEXAS Grants

With terrible cuts looming to the financial aid program, Sen. Zaffirini wants to prioritize the pain.

Like many important lifelines for poor and middle class Texans, the TEXAS grant program is on the chopping block at the Capitol. Established by the Legislature in 1999, the fund helps students pay for the skyrocketing costs of getting a college education. Even though the financial aid program is already underfunded, the House and Senate proposed budgets whack 40 percent out of TEXAS grants, a major blow to minority and needy students.

Today, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, aired a proposal in the Senate Higher Education committee to mitigate some of the pain. Zaffirini’s Senate Bill 28 purports to get money in the hands of the most deserving students.

Under the Zaffirini proposal, students would be eligible if they met one of three criteria: Taking certain advanced courses in high school like Advanced Placement; finishing high school with a ‘B’ average or graduating in the top third; or passing a high-level math course.

The goal is to spend the money on those who are most likely to succeed.

“We need more college graduates, not more people going to class,” said Bill Hammond, President of the Texas Business Association, who testified in favor of the bill. Hammond claimed that Zaffirni’s proposal would double the graduation rate of TEXAS grant recipients.

Raymund Paredes, the Commissioner of Higher Education, has said that nearly 70 percent of current TEXAS grant recipients meet the newly proposed criteria. That means many universities still won’t have sufficient TEXAS grant funds to support all the young people who qualify, a position he reiterated today in his testimony.  Paredes has said that cuts could produce a “lost generation” of students priced out of a college degree.

The cuts are going to fall the hardest on minority students.

“With rising tuition costs, coupled with decreased TEXAS grant funding, coupled with an economic downturn, it’s a perfect storm for Latinos to forgo college,” said Luis Figueroa, legislative attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, to Senate higher education leaders.

About 60 percent of TEXAS grant funds currently go to minority students, and half of the grants go to Hispanic students. Zaffirini made assurances that this ratio wouldn’t significantly change under the new requirements.

This is the ugly reality facing a Legislature adamant to balance the budget without raising taxes: The best lawmakers like Zaffirini can do is make some tweaks.