Deep cuts to student aid would reduce availability

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The commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that lawmakers must make conservative cuts to higher education grants and funding. The board’s main responsibility is to coordinate state-funded scholarships and grants. The board responded to a proposed 41-percent reduction in the grants, which would make funding available to only half of the current amount of students in the next biennium and no new students. “If we cut off that financial aid, a lot of kids that are in high school now are going to give up on their college dreams,” said Raymund Paredes, the board’s commissioner. “We will suffer the repercussions of those decisions for generations.” Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said one option to spare the board from cuts is to restructure scholarship and financial aid awards so that more money can be given in subsequent years. “I’m hoping we can put some more money in there,” she said. “I think the Higher Education Coordinating Board is looking at not just saying everyone can get financial aid, but maybe they’ll be looking at merit and financial need in the future.” The initial proposal shows a 25-percent cut in programs under the board’s direction, but the Senate and House finance committees will determine the board’s final budget. Reductions should occur in a need-only basis after analyzing the effectiveness of individual programs, not across-the-board cuts, Shapiro said. “We’re evaluating the Higher Education Coordinating Board — they took some very severe cuts,” she said. “They decided to include all of their programs and just cut everyone 25 percent.” Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Gov. Rick Perry should use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund, a $9 billion emergency fund available to lawmakers, to avoid higher education cuts. “I respectfully disagree with our governor on the usage of the Rainy Day Fund,” Lucio said. “I think we should take a billion dollars and take care of higher education in our state.”