The two-year budget bill passed by the legislature in May provides $1.5 million for tuition exemptions for educational aides who take courses toward teacher certification in a critical shortage subject area at Texas public institutions of higher education. Funding for this valuable program of need-based exemptions was zeroed out in the budget-slashing session of 2011, but the program remained on the books, and this year lawmakers led by Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) were able to restore $500,000 for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2016, rising to $1 million for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2017.
Legislators specified in the budget bill that priority in distribution of the funding would be given to colleges and universities that provide a match of at least 10 percent for each exemption awarded. Existing rules of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees this Educational Aide Exemption (EAE) program, also specify that exemptions will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis as colleges and universities submit the necessary requests for reimbursement.
The Coordinating Board has advised Texas AFT that rule-making will begin soon to sort out exactly how institutions will be reimbursed for granting the EAE exemptions. Texas AFT will be a stakeholder participating in the negotiated rule-making process.
We are making every effort to determine how applications for the Educational Aide exemptions will be handled in the meantime. Based on contact with the Coordinating Board and with financial-aid officers at participating institutions, here is our current understanding of the process.
Eligibility—to apply for an Education Aide Exemption (EAE), you must:
- Be a Texas resident.
- Have been employed as a full-time educational aide for at least one of the past five school years, or as a substitute teacher for 180 days of the past five school years preceding the term or semester for which you are awarded your initial exemption.
- Be employed in some capacity by a school district in Texas during the full term for which you receive the award unless granted a hardship waiver.
- Enroll in courses leading to teacher certification in a critical shortage subject area as defined by the Texas Education Agency.
- Register for the Selective Service or be exempt from this requirement.
- Meet academic requirements established by the college or university, including minimum grade-point average.
- Have applied for financial aid to the college you plan to attend, including filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Eligibility for the EAE is based on need. As of September 1, 2014, for example, a single independent student could have an annual adjusted gross income of no more than $34,446. A married independent student could have an annual adjusted gross income of no more than $68,896. As of this writing we do not know for sure how or whether these income-eligibility ceilings will be updated.
The authority to determine eligibility lies with the higher-education institution you seek to attend, based on information provided by you and your school district.
Application Process—applying for the Educational Aide Exemption involves the following steps (please check with your college or university regarding EAE program application deadlines):
- Complete the admissions and financial aid process at your college, including the FAFSA.
- Obtain an Educational Aide Exemption application from your college or university. Please read the EAE instructions (included as a separate worksheet within the application) before completing the application.
- Complete Part I of the EAE Application and give it to a school or school district official.
- The official completes Part II of the EAE application and sends it to the Director of Financial Aid of the college you will attend.
- The Financial Aid Office completes Part III, selects recipients, and announces awards for the fall term.
Once the institution has determined students’ eligibility, a Request for Reimbursement Form (RFR) must be submitted to the Coordinating Board. The RFR will be processed, and your college or university will receive an e-mail notification from the Coordinating Board regarding the award of the exemption and the amount.
Please note that the terms on which reimbursements are to be provided remain unsettled as of this writing. Reimbursements will be limited both by the rules yet to be written and by the amounts the legislature has appropriated–$500,000 for this year, $1 million for next year.
Given the uncertainties as this program is revived with new money after a four-year lapse, it is especially important that you contact the school district where you are employed or the financial-aid office at the college or university you plan to attend for additional up-to-date information.
Answers from the Coordinating Board to some additional questions about the program appear online here: Frequently Asked Questions. Texas AFT will provide additional guidance as well on our Web site and via future Hotline messages.