In recent testimony on state agencies’ budget requests, Texas AFT’s Government Relations team has seized the chance to urge investments in community colleges and in college scholarships for paraprofessionals seeking teaching degrees. The testimony was delivered at joint hearings of the Legislative Budget Board staff and the staff of the Governor’s Budget Office. These hearings held in advance of the 2017 legislative session allow us to get a word in edgewise with the experts who are developing the first draft of the next two-year state budget, which will cover fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
Texas AFT legislative spokesman Ted Melina Raab testified on funding for community colleges, stressing these points:
More than 700,000 students attend Texas community colleges—about half of all college students in the state, more than two-thirds of all freshmen and almost 80 percent of minority freshmen and sophomores. Continued student achievement and economic prosperity for the communities these colleges serve require significant investment by the state to share with students and local taxpayers the responsibility for funding this critical resource.
Texas AFT supports the recommendation by the Texas Association of Community Colleges to increase community college appropriations for the 2018-2019 biennium. In fact, we urge the adoption of the Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recommended $158 million increase for a total appropriation of $1.9 billion.
Because college employees—faculty and staff—are the key to community colleges’ success in fulfilling their mission, we further support full funding for Higher Education Employee Group Insurance to maintain current coverage and cost and prevent further benefit erosions and premium hikes.
Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi spoke up for increased funding the budget for the Educational Aide Tuition Exemption at the hearing on the budget request of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She welcomed continued funding in the baseline budget request but said much more is needed for this worthy program:
This program helps teacher aides attend college, tuition free, while continuing to work at their school with a long-term commitment to become a certified teacher in a critical shortage area. This program helps school districts meet the increasing demand for appropriately certified teachers in shortage areas and has an exceptionally high retention rate once participants become certified. This efficient and effective program needs additional funding to help already dedicated educators become fully certified in a critical shortage area.
This popular program was once funded at nearly $30 million per biennium, before the major budget cuts of 2011. In 2015, the legislature restored $1.5 million. Earlier this year, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board hosted a negotiated rule-making meeting with higher education officials to determine the rules for disbursing this new allotment of money. The conversation quickly turned to the overwhelming success of the program in the past and the difficulty these institutions would now have marketing such a popular program when funding is so limited. Individual institutions admitted the demand from qualified applicants could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per campus.
Ultimately, the rule-making committee decided simply to divide the $1.5 million appropriation by the number of participating institutions, yielding only small allocations for each—not nearly enough to meet the demand for this program, which was once available at over 100 different institutions of higher education in Texas.
As the Coordinating Board works toward its goal of at least 60 percent of Texans possessing a college degree or other post-secondary credential by 2030, we ask that the leadership in both chambers work to restore additional funding for the Texas Educational Aide Exemption program, which accomplishes multiple goals at once, helping dedicated educators to become college graduates, and providing a career pathway for teachers who will teach in critical shortage areas and are likely to remain in the classroom.