In Fort Worth Thursday, State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, rolled out her plan to provide a free, two-year college education to all qualified high school graduates.
It’s an idea aimed at opening higher education to as many as 78,000 students a year.
Van De Putte made her announcement at a Tarrant County Community College campus. She began by citing some ominous data: Texas ranks last in the nation for the percentage of residents without a high school diploma. Studies predict more than half the Texas jobs by 2020 will require high school graduation plus a college degree or technical credential.
“That’s why today I’m announcing the Texas Promise Scholarship Program,” she said.
Van De Putte says her plan would offer two-years of free tuition and fees at a community college or technical school for all qualified high school graduates.
Students would have to enroll full-time and be eligible for in-state tuition. According to Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board numbers, a student could receive an average $2,500 a year.
Van De Putte says the assistance would be especially helpful to middle-income students who don’t qualify for need-based grants.
“We would make the promise to them: You get through high school. You work hard. We are going to make sure you get through a technical program, a community college program, and we can do this without spending one new penny in taxes,” she said.
Van De Putte would pay for the free college with a funding plan similar to the way Texans are paying for new water projects. She’d place two billion dollars, about a fourth of the state’s current Rainy Day savings fund, in a special investment account. She says the interest from that account would support the scholarships indefinitely. The plan would be sent to voters as a constitutional amendment.
“Texans ought to have a say whether we want to invest in the human capitol, the investment in our students, to get to that workforce career,” she said.
This is the first significant higher education plan proposed in the general election contest for lieutenant governor.
Both Van De Putte and her Republican opponent Sen. Dan Patrick supported using Rainy Day money to create the new water fund. But Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said this plan isn’t a good use of state money.
“We feel she has chosen to spend more money to achieve less.
Shortly after Van De Putte’s announcement Patrick, the front runner, agreed to a first televised debate in Austin on September 29. It will be hosted by KLRU Public Television and the Texas Tribune.
Van De Putte says one debate isn’t enough for voters to see the differences between the candidates. She wants at least five debates.
Photo courtesy of Bob Booth, Fort Worth Star-Telegram