Community Colleges to Regain Health Benefits Funding

Perry cuts deal to restore $154 million

Four months after his veto of health benefits funding for Texas' community colleges caused an uproar, Gov. Rick Perry has cut a deal with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick to restore the $154 million by shifting it from other parts of the state budget. Community-college administrators and supporters were outraged when Perry declared the schools had been willfully circumventing the law by paying benefits for locally funded employees with state cash, when the law dictates the state should only give benefits to employees whose salaries are likewise state-funded. School presidents and state lawmakers responded that the Lege had long been aware of the practice and was okay with it and warned that cutting off the benefits would cause irreparable damage to the schools and, ultimately, Texas' workforce.

Tuesday evening, the three state leaders announced that community colleges will get $99 million to pay the state's share of benefits for eligible employees and a one-time payment of $55 million to help them make the transition to "the agreed definition of proportionality for health insurance benefits." Other state appropriations affected by the transfer will be restored through a supplemental appropriation by the 2009 Legislature. The three also asked that the colleges rescind tuition, fee, or tax increases enacted for fiscal year '08 to offset the veto.

"We are pleased that the vetoed funds are being returned," said Dr. Reynaldo García, president of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, in a press release. "However, it is essential that the state recognize that the issue of proportionality is a symptom of the larger problem of state under-funding of community colleges. We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Governor on improving higher education affordability, access, and quality."

Austin Community College President and CEO Stephen Kinslow also weighed in. "I hope community colleges will be treated as equal partners in higher education," said Kinslow, "and that the governor's office will work directly with us to better align public policy with the mission we are all focused on – closing the education gap to ensure Texas has the skilled workforce necessary for a competitive economy."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Community college, Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Tom Craddick

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