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Tea Party To Campaign Against Texas Student Loan Proposition

Photo by Our Lady of Disgrace

What was expected to be a routine vote on a state proposition to extend a low interest student loan program may have run into a political buzz-saw called the Texas Tea Party.

On November 8, Texans will be asked to vote on ten ballot propositions. Proposition 3 would allow the state to issue up to $1.86 billion in bonds to finance student loans.

Dominic Chavez of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says when the students pay back the student loan they retire the bonds, so the program – in theory – works at no cost to the Texas taxpayer.

“We’ve been doing this for over 40 years and 7 times throughout that 40 year history voters have gone to the polls and supported extending the program,” Chavez said.

But if the Texas Tea Party has its way, that streak would be broken. It is objecting to the fact that college students without legal residency status qualify for the loans, just as they qualify for instate tuition rates.

“We’ve got money from citizens and the public going to people who have broken the law to be in the United States – and we fundamentally have a problem with that,” San Antonio Tea Party president George Rodriguez said.

Chavez says it is possible for illegal resident students to get the state low-interest loans, but it would be difficult.

“The loan program, which is the loan program that we offer uses that same residency requirement,” he said. “However, in addition to simple residency, each of the students has to prove a pretty high level of credit-worthiness. In other words, as part of our fiduciary responsibility, we don’t just give out money to anybody.”

Rodriguez recognizes that if the Tea Party manages a large turnout for the election they could scuttle a program that helps tens of thousands of legal residents in order to get at a handful of college students who are in Texas illegally. But he says that’s the fault of state lawmakers.

“We recognize the possible impact on this,” Rodriguez said. “But then again, we are going to make sure that falls upon the legislators who in the first place provided some type of permission for undocumented aliens.”

Chavez said if voters turn down Prop 3, it’s difficult to predict if there would be enough money in the loan program to last through to the 2013 legislative session. That’s the soonest likely date that the program could be adjusted and sent to the voters again.

Dave Davies, Texas Public Radio’s news director, is a veteran journalist with over 20 years experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico. In 2008, he won three regional Murrow Awards for stories that aired on Texas Matters. He was named the 2007 Radio Journalist of the Year by the Houston Press Club and was awarded a 2007 Lone Star Award for his feature reporting. Davies was also recognized by the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters for his coverage of the U.S.-Mexico border. Davies has filed radio reports for NPR's Morning Edition, APM's Marketplace and BBC's The World. He is also a weekly columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.