School finance bill aims to promote access to higher education

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Photo Credit: Megan Clarke | Daily Texan Staff

Education leaders met Thursday to discuss how colleges, universities and public schools will implement equity through methods such as requiring financial aid applications and funding lower-income school districts. 

Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency commissioner, presented a report about House Bill 3, which allocated $634 billion to education in Texas,  to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board at their quarterly meeting. The bill allocates funds to pay for standardized testing and requires high school seniors starting in 2021 to fill out state and federal financial aid applications. The bill pays high schools for every graduate enrolled in the military or a higher education institution. 

“That is going to significantly increase the access to financial aid, specifically for first-generation college students in the state of Texas,” Morath said.

The state will award an outcome bonus of $3,000 to school districts for every high schoool graduate who enrolls in a higher education institution and $5,000 for economically disadvantaged students, Morath said.

Harrison Keller, a member of the board, said the board will ask colleges and universities to compile more data about which school districts their students are coming from. Keller said the program’s elements, such as requiring financial aid applications and allocating more funding per student for lower income districts, will promote equity. 

 

“It is going to be extraordinary for more students to see college as something that is accessible for them,” Keller said. “This is a remarkable, unprecedented and also sophisticated focus on equity. You have a formula that is sensitive to concentrations of poverty, and it really does put Texas on the forefront of these issues nationally.”

Students will now be able to transfer more history and art credits from community and technical colleges to public universities. The board also approved a new program of study, the Cloud Computing Program, which includes certifications, associate degrees and credit transfers, focusing on cloud programming and security.

The board will send out a request for applications for the Nursing, Allied Health and Other Health-related Educational Grant Program this spring. The program will invest $5 million to nursing program across Texas to address the labor shortage in the field. 

“We have such a large nursing shortage,” said Stacey Silverman, Academic Quality and WorkForce deputy assistant commissioner. “We will do anything we can do to help our institutions foster a better-quality program and expand capacity so they can get more students.” 

The board addressed the 60X30 Texas goals, which aims to have 60% of Texans hold a degree or certificate by 2030. Julie Eklund, Strategic Planning and Funding assistant commissioner, said enrollment in career and technical education has been decreasing, which might affect the progress towards the goal. Eklund said technical careers are in high demand in the economy, but enrollment rates are dropping in those fields. 

“We want both the high enrollments and high completions,” Eklund said. “But looking at the economy and why we have the discrepancy for the two, we think that it might have something to do with the courses they are taking.”