Press Statement
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
August 21, 2008
Contact: Tina Tran, 713-236-0306

Legislators and Public Education Leaders Address Proposed Eligibility Requirements for the TEXAS Grant Program

Houston (August 21, 2008) - Senator Rodney Ellis was joined by Representatives Hochberg, Hernandez, and Coleman; Houston Independent School District Trustee Paula Harris; University of Houston Downtown (UHD) President Max Castillo; UHD Director of Financial Aid Rob Sheridan; University of Houston System Vice Chancellor for Governmental Relations Grover Campbell; Texas Southern University Executive Director of Financial Aid Albert Tezeno; presumptive Representative-elect Armando Walle; and former Houston City Council Member Carol Alvarado to mark the coming academic year by bringing attention to a proposed recommendation to add new merit components to the TEXAS Grant program. The state legislators and public education leaders were also joined by students from the University of Houston-Downtown and Texas Southern University.

At the press conference today, leaders expressed concern that the new merit components would decrease the number of students receiving grant aid, particularly, first-generation and low-income students attending colleges and universities in the state. Since the inception of the program in 1999, Senator Ellis has advocated fully funding the grant program. Legislators and public education leaders joined him today in that charge.

Senator Ellis stated, "At this crucial time when the state of Texas needs to focus on closing the gap in educational achievement, these recommendations could widen the gap--creating less opportunities for folks to build better lives for themselves and their families," Senator Ellis stated. "The last thing this state should be doing is creating less educated Texans to compete in the global marketplace."

According to numbers released by the University of Houston, the proposal could reduce the number of the university's TEXAS Grant recipients by almost 20%. At Prairie View A & M University, the projected number was as high as 27%.

There are currently 90,000 eligible students for TEXAS Grants who will not be served in 2009 due to inadequate funding. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board needs to advocate for the Legislature to address the true problem: a lack of funding," said Representative Coleman. "Making it harder for low income, first generation students, and students of color to qualify for a grant is not the solution."

Senator Ellis called for hearings on the issue around the state and presented a letter asking the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to further analyze the recommendation.

The recommendation was transmitted to the Office of the Governor and the Legislative Budget Board in a study on restructuring financial aid last month. The study, which required that the THECB examine six financial aid strategies, was mandated by Senate Bill 1, last session's appropriation's bill, Section 49. In consultation with the Office of the Governor, the THECB added additional topics, including adding new merit components to the TEXAS Grant program.

In the 2007 fiscal year, the TEXAS Grant program awarded 52,585 students $175,030,246 in grant aid. That accounts for only about half of the students who were eligible to receive the award. According to the THECB Report on Student Financial Aid in Texas Higher Education for Fiscal Year 2007, with constant funding, the program will face a $246,376,031 shortfall, leaving 66,262 students unable to enter the program in 2010.

The report transmitted by the THECB can be found on the Coordinating Board's website at http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/reports/pdf/1563.pdf.

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