Texas AFT Calls for Restoration of Tuition Scholarships for Educational Aides

Texas AFT’s Ted Melina Raab also called for restoration of funding for a highly successful program of tuition scholarships for educational aides. Here’s the pertinent part of Texas AFT’s Senate Finance Committee testimony:

Among the more than 65,000 members of Texas AFT are many who have been helped by the Teach for Texas Loan Repayment program and the Educational Aide Exemption program to become successful teachers in our public schools. Unfortunately, the 82nd Legislature eliminated funding for the Educational Aide Exemption and cut the Teach for Texas program by more than 90 percent. SB 2, as filed, provides no funding for the Educational Aide Exemption but—following an increase by the 83rd Legislature—does increase the appropriation for the Teach for Texas program. Texas AFT supports restoration of the aide exemption program and the proposed increase for Teach for Texas to help ensure the teaching workforce that our schoolchildren need.

As student enrollment continues to grow, the need for qualified, certified teachers also grows. Many teacher aides have the dream of becoming a certified teacher, but the cost of paying tuition or incurring loans to become a certified teacher can deter many of these low-paid education employees from achieving that dream.

This tuition exemption since 1997 has opened doors for many teacher aides to reach their goal and meet the needs of Texas schoolchildren. Since its inception in 1997, the demand for this popular educational aide program has exceeded its funding every year. According to the latest Higher Education Coordinating Board data, 46,000 educators have benefited from the program at a per-person cost of $1,999.

The Educational Aide Exemption program was funded at $28.6 million for the 2010-2011 biennium. This popular program received no funding for the 2012-2013 biennium, leaving some participants in the middle of their degree program with no assistance from the program they anticipated would assist them throughout. The program was also not funded for the 2014-2015 biennium. Since the cut, Texas AFT has received many inquiries from eager and qualified applicants seeking a four-year teaching degree in a shortage area.

A 2008 study conducted for the Higher Education Coordinating Board demonstrated that this program is highly regarded by the financial-aid directors at 160 public and private not-for-profit campuses—so highly regarded it was the one specific grant program they would least wish to see consolidated into a generic college-readiness grant program.

The restoration of this $28 million program would be a wise investment with a high rate of return. This program has paved the way for top-quality, highly motivated educational aides to attend college and return to the classroom for a long and productive career in education. The State Board of Educator Certification has noted that there is an exceptionally high teacher-retention rate for the home-grown teachers who come out of this program. They know what they are getting into in the classroom, and they like it. These teacher aides have a passion to change and improve not only their own lives but also the lives of the students they serve. We note with frustration that while the proven educational aide program has gone unfunded, other new teacher development programs with at best mixed results have actually seen increased funding. The Educational Aide Exemption Program needs and deserves your support.