“Our greatest challenge in higher education remains ensuring our schools are accessible and affordable for every qualified student.” So proclaimed Gov. Rick Perry during a 2002 address to community college officials. Unfortunately for many qualified students and community colleges around the state, the governor made this challenge even greater when he vetoed $154 million in much-needed funding to community colleges in June.
Approximately 575,000 students are enrolled at community colleges, and nearly 72 percent of college freshmen attend one. What’s more, 70 percent of higher education enrollment growth is at community colleges, which account for approximately half of higher education enrollment in Texas.
Although these institutions are critical in our efforts to increase access to higher educational opportunities and to ensure academic success, the state provides only approximately 31 percent of their funding. The remainder must come from local taxes, tuition and fees, and local funds.
To put the impact of Gov. Perry’s veto into perspective, the $157 million that he cut is more than the total new dollars appropriated to community colleges this biennium for operations and instruction.
This unwarranted and unexpected action will not only negatively affect our community colleges’ efforts to achieve the goals of Closing the Gaps, but also severely strain their resources. The grim reality is that to make up for this lost funding, community colleges will either have to raise local property taxes, increase tuition, reduce services or, sadly, do all three. Any of these options negatively will affect their ability to serve students who typically have the fewest resources to attend college. The worst result is that many students may be forced to drop out of college because of the governor’s actions.
Even more shocking is the governor’s veto message accusing the community colleges of falsifying their appropriations request. Having attended every budget hearing, I know that community college officials submitted full and accurate information in their budget requests. That the governor would accuse them of falsehood is beyond comprehension. The legislature in good faith chose to fully fund community college employee benefits with general revenue because we understand that community colleges are under-funded and over-burdened.
In addition to the $154 million for higher education group insurance, Gov. Perry also vetoed funding for new community college campuses at Alamo Community College, Austin Community College, Houston Community College, Paris Junior College and Temple College.
Because formula funding is based on student enrollment for the two years prior to the biennium, these funds are critical for the operations of new campuses that cannot receive formula funding due to the lack of student enrollment data. Gov. Perry’s veto will exacerbate the financial difficulties these community colleges will face in providing much needed educational opportunities.
As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education, I understand the important role of community colleges in developing a well-trained workforce and in providing affordable access to higher education. Accordingly, I will continue to work with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and our colleagues who support this important funding to remedy the situation during the interim so that these institutions and their students are not penalized unfairly.
To do this will require the combined efforts not only of legislative leaders, but also of community college leaders, students and their families. Cumulatively, we must convince the governor to right his wrong by approving budget execution authority to restore these crucial funds for our community colleges and our students.”