Fewer grants, higher tuition
Nearly 30,000 fewer students would get Texas Grants to help them pursue higher education under cuts agreed upon Monday by budget negotiators, and a key lawmaker said tuition might rise as well.
“We tried very hard to get as much money back into higher education as we could to avoid large tuition hikes, but some will go up,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.
“I think it's just going to be harder for poor kids to go to college,” Ogden said, “because there's just not as much financial aid, and if money's tight at the universities, it's going to be hard for them to basically provide big discounts for their students to attend.”
The House-Senate negotiators' decision on higher education funding came as they made final decisions on a state budget plan for the next two years.
They plan to formally vote on the overall proposal Thursday, paving the way for the Legislature to consider the budget before adjourning Monday.
The budget also is tied to other revenue and school finance measures, and those bills still were working their way through the process.
When all the budget-related measures are taken into account, a staffer estimated the higher education cut would be about $1 billion from current state general revenue levels, including financial aid and institutional funding.
Cuts are being made because the state faces a budget shortfall of more than $25 billion through the next two years when taking into account the money needed to continue current services.
Negotiators have been working out differences between a barebones House plan and a Senate measure that would allocate more to key areas while still cutting current spending.
Under the original House plan, which would have cut $2 billion from general revenue, there would have been no new Texas Grants awarded, with the aid going only to renewing grants to students already in the program.
“We're grateful the Legislature tried to mitigate the cuts in financial aid as much as possible in this current budget environment,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, adding that “we did as well as can be expected” in the tough budgetary times. A total of 106,000 students received Texas Grants in the current two-year budget period. That would fall to 77,300 under the budget compromise, including 44,200 who are renewing grants and 28,700 getting first-time awards.
The budget proposal doesn't appear to envision liquidating a tobacco endowment fund for higher education to help put more money toward funding immediate needs. The Senate previously approved a partial liquidation of the fund, but “another one of my good ideas bit the dust in the House,” Ogden said Monday.
The compromise would cut formula funding to universities by 5 percent and formula funding to health-related institutions by 10 percent. It would cut nonformula spending by 25 percent. Community college funding would remain at the current dollar amount, lawmaker said.
Senate Higher Education Chair Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, called the overall higher education reduction “very hurtful” and said it “flies in the face” of efforts to close achievement gaps between student groups in Texas, and between Texas and the rest of the country.
Among other high-profile items, Ogden said negotiators would be asked Thursday to formally bless a proposal to slash a program that provides grants to family planning clinics, going along with a House decision to redirect $61 million in funds to other programs and leave the clinics with about $37 million.
“Lots of members think most of that money ends up in Planned Parenthood and is used to subsidize their abortion operation,” Ogden said. Money allocated through the state budget can't be used directly for abortions, but critics say giving any money to groups that also offer abortions supports the practice.
Republican Sen. Bob Deuell, a family physician from Greenville, said of the family planning reduction, “It's terrible... It's going to cause more unwanted pregnancies and an added burden on our Medicaid system, and it's going to cause more abortions.”