As colleges and universities are forced to do more with less funding, new bills moving through the Texas Legislature may help lessen the expense associated with providing tuition exemptions to Texas veterans and their dependents.
Two companion bills filed this month — Senate Bill 1543 and House Bill 3265 — would allow institutions of higher education to offset the cost of the state’s Hazlewood Act, which provides qualified veterans, spouses and dependent children with up to 150 hours of tuition exemption, including most fees, at public colleges and universities in Texas.
The benefit is available to veterans who have served at least 180 days of active military duty, and received an honorable discharge, separation or a general discharge under honorable conditions. Qualifying veterans must also have designated Texas as their home of record, entered the service in Texas, or were a Texas resident at their time of entry into the armed forces, according to the Texas Veterans Commission.
In 2009, state lawmakers passed the Hazlewood Legacy Act, which allows veterans to transfer exempted credits to their spouses and dependent children under certain conditions.
While the act aids Texas veterans and their families, the state’s public colleges and universities bear the cost.
Locally, Central Texas College serves a large population of veterans and military spouses and dependents. According to data from the college, the Hazlewood tuition exemption cost CTC an estimated $309,000 in the last fiscal year.
Chancellor Thomas Klincar said he was concerned that a lack of funding from the state would force colleges to make up the cost by raising local revenue via property taxes or increasing tuition.
“If state funding decreases, then you are left with either raising taxes or tuition,” Klincar said. “We don’t want to do either.”
The bills filed by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow entities like Central Texas College to dip into unused tuition funds designated for the “B-On-Time” loan program to help pay for Hazlewood tuition exemptions.
“The first and foremost consideration is that we help the 1 percent who defend our freedoms and have earned their Hazlewood benefits,” Van de Putte said in a statement. “It makes sense to give schools the flexibility to utilize monies already appropriated for their campuses before looking at additional state dollars. This bill will help our universities do the right thing for our veterans and their families.”
While the bills would not fully fund the Hazlewood exemptions for some colleges, they could provide some relief.
“I welcome any alternative sources of state funding,” Klincar said.
Both bills are still in legislative committees.
Contact Chris McGuinness at email@example.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.