As tuition continues to rise and employment continues to fall, many UT students are aware of the classic catch-22 of financial aid. Middle class families often do not qualify for basic federal loans but still struggle to pay tuition. The Hinson-Hazelwood student loan program has helped middle class students in Texas fund their educations for decades, is self-funded and costs nothing to taxpayers.
Almost predictably, various chapters of the Tea Party in Texas are planning to annihilate a bond proposition this November which would extend these student loans. The Tea Party has hijacked Proposition 3 on a question of pure ideology, ignoring the concerns of the hard-working students it would benefit.
Proposition 3 allows the state to authorize new bonds for loans under the Hinson-Hazelwood program as soon as old ones have been paid off and is widely recognized as sound policy. It has been in force for almost half a century and has been renewed seven times with support from members of both parties.
The proposition does not increase the borrowing limit and does not raise taxes because it is funded by loan repayment. Raymund Paredes, commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, emphasized that the “strong” program “does not hurt taxpayers at all,” according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Some Texas chapters of the Tea Party movement have cried foul because the loans could theoretically go to illegal immigrants. “We fundamentally have a problem with that,” George Rodriguez, president of the San Antonio Tea Party, asserted to Texas Public Radio last week. Activists insist that the benefits of these relatively low-interest loans should not go to students who are in the country illegally.
However, Hinson-Hazelwood loans have credit requirements which ensure that the number of qualifying illegal immigrants “is miniscule,” according to The Dallas Morning News. Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the coordinating board, affirmed to Texas Public Radio that every student must “prove a pretty high level of credit-worthiness” to be eligible. This fiscal responsibility ensures that the loans are paid back. Sufficient loan repayment is part of what has allowed the program to continue for 45 years without interruption.
In any case, Hinson-Hazelwood loans are just that — loans. The program is not directly paid for with tax dollars because the students pay the loans back with interest. Any illegal immigrants that would benefit from the legislation do so at no cost to taxpayers, negating Rodriguez’s “fundamental” qualms.
Other detractors complain that Proposition 3 allows the state to issue new bonds without voter approval. Houston’s Tea Party has urged its members to vote against the proposition. Its website claims the measure forces Texas to “stay in debt” by perpetuating bonds using an “’autopilot’ debt model”. But this argument is illogical. Renewing bonds that have been repaid is a sound educational and economic investment for the state. Texas gives students money to go to school, and those students pay back the money with interest after they graduate.
Moreover, saying that the Hinson-Hazelwood loans are a model of “autopilot” debt is irrational and misleading. The fiscal notes prepared for the bill specifically state that “no fiscal implication to the state is anticipated.” The money isn’t being thrown down the drain of alleged big government waste. It’s being given to credit-worthy students who would not otherwise be able to afford higher education.
Underlying the issue is the persistence of Tea Party activists to push an at-all-costs agenda, ignoring the clear benefits of Proposition 3 and its associated legislation. In Texas, what the Tea Party wants, the Tea Party is likely to get. In the legislative session earlier this year, the powerful coalition managed to pass some of its pet projects, including, most notably, voter ID and sonogram bills. Though the party’s influence has waned, the threat of its passionate membership is the looming specter that can kill Proposition 3.
If that happens, the results would be catastrophic. Failure to pass Proposition 3 would limit the Hinson-Hazelwood loan program such that its funding could fizzle out before the Legislature reconvenes in 2013.
Rodriguez claims to “recognize the potential impact” of defunding tens of thousands of students in order to nab a smattering of illegal immigrants. Instead of expressing contrition, he promises to “make sure [the impact] falls on the legislators” who put Proposition 3 on the ballot.
Sadly, the blame doesn’t lie with the legislators. It lies with the cabal of Tea Party activists who insist on undermining higher education to attempt to further their essentially convoluted policy goals. Continuing low-interest loans for college students reinforces the state’s goal of increasing access to higher education, and it is something every UT student should support.
Katsounas is a business and government sophomore.