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Community Colleges Worry About Texas Budget

AUSTIN (AP) - Texas community colleges have been experiencing a historic growth spurt but might be forced to increase class sizes and lay off employees without additional state funding, some school leaders said.

Hundreds of thousands of students have flooded into community colleges since the middle of the last decade, attracted by low tuition and diverse course offerings, from welding to computer science and engineering.

Although overall enrollment at community colleges is lower than the previous semester, administrators say state assistance has failed to keep pace with years of steady growth. The 2011 budget did not include cuts for community colleges, but spending remained flat and did not cover a 20 percent increase in enrollment during the previous two years, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Current draft budget recommendations would reduce community college funding by 5 to 6 percent over the next two years, according to officials at the Texas Association of Community Colleges.

However, many state lawmakers are among the community colleges’ legions of defenders. They say the schools play a vital role in educating returning veterans and molding the state’s workforce.

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he doesn’t think community colleges will face a budget cut and might get an increase. Lawmakers have a surplus this year, but they also face a multibillion-dollar hole in Medicaid and possible new public education spending.

Community college officials are asking for $1.9 billion for the biennium, which is $320 million above the recommendation in the draft budget and $232 million more than the current biennium. The proposal includes $196 million to fund at least a third of the growth that was unfunded by the 2011 Legislature.

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