Texas budget cuts threaten state funds to financial aid

State-funded financial aid for Texas students will be hit hard with cuts made by lawmakers to correct a multi-billion dollar deficit. Many of the state financial aid programs students rely on may be diminished or dissolved entirely to help make up the fiscal gap.

The blow began with a proposed 5 percent cut across the board for state agencies in Texas, and has now culminated in a proposed 7.5 percent cut in order to finish out the year. The proposed 5 percent alone equates to $1.8 billion in possible cuts.

“The legislative budget board could only stomach $1.2 billion in cuts, and of those $1.2 billion of the first 5 percent, 41 percent of the cuts came from higher education,” Senator Leticia Van de Putte said. “And the reason is because they exempted prisons, education, and health and human services.”

Because of the promise not to raise taxes, Texas lawmakers have to find other ways to close the gap on the 2012-2013 state budget, and in addition to raising revenue, cuts in funding for programs and state agencies must be enforced to make up the nearly $27 billion difference.

“The choices are, do we throw granny out of the nursing home, do we stop vaccines for children, or do we cut mental health services for the people who are very ill,” Van de Putte said. “We’re already talking about closing two prisons and two state hospitals. We think we’ll cut about 8,000 state jobs, and that’s not from higher education; that’s just state jobs.”

State-funded federal aid may be one of the programs downsized. Rep. Craig Eiland, who serves on the House Budget-Writing Committee, told the Associated Press Friday that he predicts college financial aid programs will be closed to incoming freshman.

“It will impact every school in this state,” Eiland said.

“If we’re short 20-odd percent of the budget, I would look to see 20 percent cuts in financial aid,” Van de Putte said. “And we know right now we’re only meeting 60 percent of the need.”

Despite the lean fiscal future for state-funded higher education and financial aid, legislators are still pledging to do all they can to make the right decisions for cuts in Texas education.

“The budget will be the most important issue we face this legislative session,” Rep. Joaquin Castro said. “We need to figure out how to best prioritize cutting in spending while making sure that our students, the future workforce of Texas, and our veterans are helped as they pursue their education.”

The Texas House is expected to make their draft of the budget cuts public Jan 18.