Speaking Up for Funding for Higher Education

Marathon hearings on funding for higher education have been under way in the state Senate Finance Committee Wednesday and Thursday. Texas AFT and allies in these hearings are making the case for key programs that enhance educational opportunities in both preK-12 and higher education.

A highlight of Wednesday evening’s testimony came when representatives of the Texas Association for Bilingual Education (Jesse Romero) and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (Celina Moreno) spoke out in support of a program important to many Texas AFT members and the students they serve: the Educational Aide Tuition Exemption program for school employees enrolled in college coursework leading to a teaching degree. This scholarship program, they noted, has been a crucial avenue for addressing the shortage of certified bilingual teachers for the students in our public schools and encouraging upward mobility for minority school employees who want to make a career in public education. These scholarships matter more than ever now that more than one out of every six students in our schools requires instruction in English as a second language. Both expert witnesses called for continued and increased funding for this vital program—a priority Texas AFT emphatically endorses.

On Thursday Texas AFT is delivering testimony on funding for community colleges and higher-education employees’ group health insurance. Here’s a preview of the testimony prepared for presentation by Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi:

Public Community Colleges
Texas AFT and our more than 65,000 members in public and higher education support full state funding for community colleges, including employee benefits—an integral and necessary component of a system of higher education that ensures continued and growing prosperity in Texas.

The importance of public higher education and, particularly, the key role played by community colleges in the education of individual Texans and the economic development of Texas are well established. The state’s public community colleges enroll more than 700,000 students—about half of all Texas college and university students and 70 percent of college freshmen. Enrollment has grown steadily and that trend is forecast to continue. Further, community colleges deliver education at relatively low cost with content that meets the needs of individual students, employers, and the communities to which the colleges are directly connected.

Texas AFT members strongly support state funding for community colleges at a level that recognizes the value of this critical resource. Full state funding—less tuition and fees that enable affordable access—of community college operational costs is necessary to enable community colleges to meet the important tasks they face. Students, employees, and local taxpayers are doing their part to uphold the shared responsibility of funding this critical component of our higher education system.

Higher Education Employee Group Insurance
Appropriations for Higher Education Employee Group Insurance (HEGI) contributions should be at a level that will maintain current benefit levels—including the current premium-sharing arrangement—meet expected health cost trends and provide a reasonable reserve fund. Any absolute or effective cut to this funding or reduction in benefits—while representing an apparent “saving” to the state budget—would simply shift costs to employees. Higher medical costs would fall most heavily on those lower-paid employees least able to afford it.