McALLEN, RGV – A Texas House Bill establishing a potential STC campus or extension in the Delta region of the Rio Grande Valley will affect all school districts and community colleges in the State of Texas, according to trustees with South Texas College.
Making their statement to members of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations on Monday morning, trustees testifying against the bill said the bill has unintended consequences and sets a dangerous precedent.
“It revolutionizes the way school districts and community colleges are now governed. They are free and autonomous except to the extent they are controlled by the higher education committee,” said STC trustee Gary Gurwitz.
“The decision as to where, when and to what extent to build campuses, extension or high schools should belong to the local trustees. If the legislature takes that away it will put the entire public school and community college system in jeopardy.
“It is an unnecessary intrusion of the legislature into the local governance matters,” Gurwitz said. “We know what we are doing. Please let us do it.”
In 1993, SB 251 was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, establishing South Texas Community College. It opened open its doors to just over 1,000 students. Today STC is a nationally recognized and award-winning comprehensive college serving over 30,000 students.
The recent HB 382 authored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and carried in the Senate by Lucio establishes a branch campus of STC in an economically distressed region in Hidalgo County known as the Delta region which includes the towns of Edcouch and Elsa. HB 382 passed overwhelmingly from the House of Representatives and was supported by members of the Valley delegation.
The bill has been supported by a resolution from Hidalgo County as well as the cities of Edcouch, Elsa and Edinburg.
“The struggle to higher education in this area is real. The closest campus (STC) is 30 minutes away and given limited access to transportation,” Lucio said. “Edcouch Elsa ISD spends over $20,000 a year to provide a limited opportunity for students seeking higher education. HB 382 statutorily establishes an extension facility in the Delta region to improve the access to higher education in this area. No fiscal implication to this state is anticipated.”
STC trustees say the college has already invested $35 million into its Weslaco campus, approximately ten miles from the Delta. STC is already planning to invest another $25 million into the facility, and has accommodated the region by offering transportation services for students to and from campuses in McAllen and the Mid-Valley.
“The Board of Trustees has really gone all the way out to provide an education for the students, and we are very proud of the work we are doing in South Texas with the college,” said STC trustee Alejo Salinas. “We feel that this particular bill will create problems throughout the college district and certainly interfere with local governments.”
“We have strategically opened our centers throughout both counties, Hidalgo and Starr, so there is adequate accessibility for all students,” Salinas said.
Canales, the author of the bill, doesn’t believe the bill has statewide implications, rather he reverts to the fact that STC was initially created by the Legislature.
“What I can tell you is that with respect to STC, it was created by the legislature and so for us as legislators, the fact that we created the school means we can dictate to them different things or what resources might be allocated,” Canales told the Senate committee. “To say this is going to have state implications on everybody? I don’t think that this is the case.”