Bill creates innovative path to fund college savings
AUSTIN — A bipartisan group of state officials is endorsing an innovative way to fund an important program that matches the savings parents set aside for their children's college and university education.
Senator Kirk Watson on Thursday filed Senate Bill 517, which would create a renewing funding source for the Texas Save and Match Program - also known as the Texas Match the Promise Fund. The program was created in 2007 and matches savings of eligible children enrolled in the Texas Tuition Promise Fund. The Match the Promise Fund accepts philanthropic contributions and currently provides a mechanism for unclaimed property owners to voluntarily donate their unclaimed property to the scholarship fund.
Under SB 517, property valued at $5 or less that has been unclaimed for 20 years or more can be appropriated by the Texas legislature to the Match the Promise Fund to be used for college scholarships. This small-dollar, long-unclaimed property currently amounts to $738,398.
Representative Geanie Morrison has filed the same bill, HB 1001, in the state House of Representatives. And both legislators are working with Comptroller Susan Combs, who first proposed this funding approach.
The legislation would infuse the program with more than $700,000 immediately, and then another roughly $80,000-per-year into the future. It will work in conjunction with another bill Senator Watson plans to file that would expand access to the Match the Promise program for middle-class Texans. (Senator Watson filed a similar bill in 2009 - Senate Bill 1760 - but it did not become law due to a technical issue; this year's legislation will fix that issue while making sure that more Texans can take advantage of this program.)
"The financial hurdles that prevent Texas families from sending their children to college will become larger economic hurdles as our state tries to compete in the 21st Century," Senator Watson said. "This is an innovative approach to funding an essential program that will put more Texans in college and help the Texas economy. I look forward to working with the Comptroller to make sure this program is funded and available to the many Texans who need it."
Comptroller Combs assured Texans that unclaimed money that is put to use in the Match the Promise Fund will continue to belong to its rightful owners, and if the owners wish to claim their $5 or less after it has been held by the state for more than 20 years, the state guarantees reimbursement.
"There is no reason to set this money aside when the likelihood that it will be claimed is very small, and it can be put to good use," she said. "In a time of limited resources, this legislation would help us to do more with existing funds and do better for Texas by helping families send their children to college."
Representative Morrison said she hopes the bill will stand as a model for legislators looking for innovative ways to stretch state dollars and focus on the state's top priorities.
"This unique program will help a wide variety of parents living across the state who are doing the right, responsible thing for their kids," Representative Morrison said. "I hope we'll find other tools to fund priorities that will help Texas without leaning on taxpayers."