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Texas Tea Party Opposes Extending Student Loan Program

By David Martin Davies, Texas Public Radio

Dallas, TX –

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. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies has more.

On November 8, Texans will be asked to vote on ten propositions, including Prop. 3 which allows 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 works at no cost to the Texas taxpayer.

Dominic Chavez: We've been doing this for over 40 years and seven times throughout that 40 year history voters have gone to the polls and supported extending the program.

But if the Texas Tea Party has its way, that streak would be broken. They are objecting to the fact that college students without legal residency status qualify for the loans just as they qualify for in-state tuition rates. George Rodriguez is the president of the San Antonio Tea Party.

George Rodriguez: 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.

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

Dominic Chavez: The loan program, which is the loan program that we offer, uses that same residency requirement. 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.

George Rodriguez: We recognize the possible impact on this, 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 when the program could be adjusted and sent to the voters again.

In San Antonio, David Martin Davies reporting.