The House tentatively passed a bill to provide students who have demonstrated college readiness with priority access to TEXAS Grants, the state's primary need-based financial aid program.
State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, was the House sponsor of Senate Bill 28, authored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which would first give the grants to needy students who are more prepared for college. To prove college readiness, students must meet two of four standards: showing academic readiness by enrolling in the distinguished academic program or taking 12 hours of college credit; passing tests in the Texas Success Initiative Act, the SAT or ACT; ranking in the top third of their high school class; and being successful in math beyond algebra II.
Since its inception in 1999, the TEXAS Grants program has awarded more than $2 billion to more than 300,000 students. But because of the state's budget deficit, funding for the program is likely to be slashed. Currently, the grants are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, proposed an amendment that would require students to write a personal statement and interview to receive a grant. He said he hoped it would add flexibility to students with other talents, like band players. "We don't want to lose the best people because they don't fit into the box created," he said. Lawmakers tabled the amendment.
Branch accepted an amendment by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, that would require a study on how the bill would affect students. Castro said the bill would hold the state accountable for money appropriated to colleges.
Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, voted against the bill. She said TEXAS Grants should continue to go to those who need them the most.
"TEXAS Grants was designed to give hope to low income high school students," she said. "We asked them to do certain things, to meet certain requirements, and we told them they have an opportunity to go to college, and now we want to change the rules."
The House vote in favor of the bill, which has already passed the Senate, was 123-25.