October 25, 2007
Community college funding finally fixed

The great community college funding fiasco has finally come to a resolution.

Texas community colleges will get $154 million in vetoed money after all under a deal struck by top state leaders including Gov. Rick Perry, who had deleted the money from the state budget in a funding dispute with the schools.

The GOP leaders -- Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick -- called on the colleges in light of Tuesday's agreement to rescind any approved or planned tuition, fee or tax increases tied to the veto.

Dewhurst, calling community colleges the "backbone" of higher education, said it was crucial "that we restore the vetoed funds and ensure higher education in Texas remains affordable and accessible to anyone who wants it, without putting any extra financial burden on students or taxpayers."

Under the deal, the funding would be transferred to colleges from unspecified areas of the $151.9 billion, two-year state budget. Any money removed from another appropriation would be restored when the Legislature next meets in regular session in January 2009.

Community colleges applauded the decision but said the larger issue of sufficient overall funding still must be addressed.

As noted in my earlier post, the monies will be cobbled together from various existing appropriations. At least now we know that those funds will then be restored to the unwitting and possibly unwilling donors when the Lege gets back together.

The deal mediates a dispute between Perry and the colleges on how much the state should pay for health benefits for community college employees.

Perry, who in vetoing the money contended community colleges submitted false appropriation requests, said the state only should pay such benefits for employees whose salaries also are state-paid.

Community colleges, which denied Perry's charge, sought state benefit funding for employees who were eligible for state salaries even if they were paid from other sources.

Paul Burka demonstrated the flaws in Perry's logic after the veto.

Millicent Valek, board chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges and president of Brazosport College, said restoration of the funding "means community colleges in Texas can continue to offer opportunities and access to thousands of Texans each day."

Valek also said, however, that the compromise is "a Band-Aid fix." She said, "We still have a lot of work ahead" to fix the larger issues of funding for community colleges.

Obviously, it's not just community colleges that have such issues. But at least this unnecessary crisis, for which Governor Perry is solely responsible, has been averted for now. Small favors and all that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 25, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo