News: State Policy & Advocacy

Momentum for Mandatory FAFSA Filing Continues

Wednesday, May 22, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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Gilbert Zavala, vice president education & talent development at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, testifies to the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee in support of HB 535 on April 23, 2019.

The Public Education Committee in the Texas House of Representatives held a hearing last month on House Bill 535 (HB 535), which would require high school seniors to complete a financial aid application in order to graduate. Gilbert Zavala of the Austin Chamber of Commerce – an NCAN member based in the Texas capital – testified in support of the bill.

“At present, many Texas students forgo the postsecondary education or training they need to compete for good jobs because they cannot afford enrollment. Ensuring a greater share of high school seniors complete a FAFSA, or TASFA, will help families more easily connect with merit- or need-based funding to support higher education enrollment,” Zavala said at the hearing.

Were the bill to become law, students would have three options to meet the new requirement: 1) fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), 2) fill out the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA), or 3) obtain a waiver.

HB 535’s sponsor, Rep. Victoria Neave, cited an estimated $300 million in Pell Grants annually left on the table in Texas as a result of the state’s below average FAFSA completion rate. “We can transform a family and create generational change with a college degree, as well as help our Texas economy by connecting existing resources with the families who need it the most via House Bill 535,” Neave said in a January press release.

Zavala also advocated for the state to create an online version of the TASFA. Currently, students must print out the state aid application and mail a copy to each institution for which they are seeking enrollment.

HB 535’s sponsor, Rep. Victoria Neave – second from the right – along with Zavala and colleagues from the Dallas Regional Chamber and Dallas Commit, who also testified in support of the bill.

The Texas bill is not unique in its aim to require high school seniors to apply for financial aid. The legislative bodies in California, Indiana, and the District of Columbia are also debating or already debated the idea this year. Energy for the concept is presumably a result of the encouraging initial outputs at both the state and school district level; Louisiana increased its FAFSA completion rate by 26% in its first year with such a new rule, while the Val Verde Unified School District in California saw a year-over-year increase from 69% to 83%.

NCAN member and advocacy grantee College Forward, also based in Austin, has been optimistically monitoring the progress of HB 535 and engaging directly with policymakers on the matter.

“We are thrilled to see that the bill has been receiving this increased level of attention recently,” said College Forward’s CEO, Austin Buchan. “College Forward is excited to contribute any way we can in pushing it over the finish line as we near the end of the legislative session.”

Notably, HB 535 includes a provision that allows third parties such as school counselors to waive the financial aid application requirement for students – an important distinction from the Louisiana rule, which only allows a parent or guardian to do so. This detail – which in theory will make it easier for a student to have the requirement waived – helped alleviate concern about what the prospective law would mean for undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid.

NCAN will continue to monitor the progress of these bills as state legislative sessions continue, and will keep members apprised of any new developments that would impact direct service efforts.