Politics & Government

August 14, 2014

Texas Democrat proposes $2 billion program for college tuition for high school grads

The Democratic lieutenant governor candidate plans to ask Texans to OK dedicating $2 billion of state money to send youths to college.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wants to make sure Texas high school graduates can go on to college — and she wants the state to foot the $2 billion bill to make it happen.

On Thursday, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor unveiled her plan to shift that money, which would require approval from Texans, from the state’s Rainy Day fund into an account to fund the Texas Promise scholarship.

She said interest generated from that money would be used to provide scholarships for qualifying students attending two-year community colleges and technical colleges.

“My plan is about putting Texans first,” she told a group gathered at the Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus. “Today, Texas is creating more and more jobs than it has qualified workers to fill them.

“Employers are crying out for those qualified applicants,” she said. “The workforce pipeline doesn’t just stop at a high school diploma.”

Van de Putte’s proposal is the first main higher education policy proposal in the race for lieutenant governor.

Van de Putte and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will square off in November in the fight to replace Republican Lt. Gov. Davd Dewhurst, bested by Patrick in the primary election earlier this year,as the state’s No. 2 in command.

Patrick’s campaign responded to Van de Putte’s proposal.

“As Chair of the Senate Education Committee, he has been a leader in reforming graduation plans so that partnerships between school districts and higher education institutions can provide relevant career and tech-course opportunities to students from all walks of life, thus preparing our workforce for the future,” said Alejandro Garcia, communications director for Patrick.

“Van de Putte has simply recycled the Tennessee Promise and claimed it her own. Once again, she has chosen to spend more money to achieve less.​”

Van de Putte said the program is similar to one that will go into effect in Tennessee next year. In that program, the state is offering free community college tuition to every high school graduate in the state, which will be funded by $34 million each year from lottery proceeds.

Improving workforce

On Thursday, Van de Putte said the state must do something to help more Texans make their way to higher education, especially at a time when projections show that by 2020, more than half the jobs available in Texas will require education beyond high school.

She said she realizes cost has become a key stumbling block for many Texans trying to go to college, especially as the cost of college has dramatically increased in recent decades.

“It is time to remove the barriers,” she said. “Every hard-working high school graduate in Texas deserves an opportunity to go to college, receive technical education and obtain post-high school credentials.”

“It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future.”

Under her plan, Texas voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment to allow for the money to be transferred into an account and to be used for higher education starting in the fall of 2016. She said the state’s rainy day fund, which has flourished because of oil and gas revenue, is expected to total at least $8.4 billion.

The shifting of money Texans would have to approve would be similar to the program Texans approved last year to finance $2 billion of water infrastructure projects.

‘Last dollar’ scholarship

Estimates showed that potentially tens of thousands of students, perhaps 45,000 or more, could qualify to participate in this program.

But she said students would have to meet certain criteria, including taking at least 12 hours a semester, attending a qualifying school and being eligible for in-state tuition rates. Students would have to enter the program right after graduation, take classes toward gaining a license, certification or associates degree and maintain “satisfactory academic progress.”

This is known as a “last dollar” scholarship, meaning that all other scholarships and grants would be applied to the cost of tuition and fees, and then this fund would pay the balance that remained.

“This is to make sure those middle class families, ... that their high school graduates could get that (higher education) opportunity,” she said.

This would only cover the cost of tuition and fees. The average cost of tuition and fees at a two-year public school is nearly $1,800 per year.

“This would be a one time investment that could change a generation,” Van de Putte said.

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