Texas public university leaders are hoping that the Legislature will pass a bill during the third special session this year that would free up millions of dollars of funding for new and existing buildings.
Many of the projects mentioned in the bill include funding for the construction and upgrading of health care education and research facilities at various public universities — including the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and Texas Tech University — as the state tackles a longtime shortage of health care workers accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Texas has a shortage of medical professionals, in particular nurses and occupational therapists and physical therapists,” said Matthew Flores, a TWU spokesperson.
Senate Bill 52, which would authorize the state to issue nearly $2 billion in bonds to fund the infrastructure projects, is scheduled for hearing at the state Senate on Thursday morning. Texas has not passed a tuition revenue bond package to fund higher education since 2015.
If signed into law, the bill would send $49 million for a new TWU health sciences center at Denton, $84 million for the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth campus, $90 million for renovating an existing facility at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and $80 million for construction of health science education and research centers at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
Most health care programs at TWU are already at maximum capacity, including nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy, Flores said.
The funds — which would help cover about half the cost to construct the facility — would allow the school to expand those programs which would benefit the university and North Texas by producing more medical professionals to “alleviate the stress on the health care system.”
Nearly $300 million would also be allocated for the construction and renovation of science buildings at UNT-Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington.
“We’ve had 11 straight semesters of enrollment growth,” UNT-Dallas President Bob Mong said. “Pretty soon we’re going to run out of space, so we need this building.”
Mong added he has been requesting the funds for this project, which he said would increase the number of diverse graduates in the medical field, for the past three sessions — including this year’s.
“We are pleased that there is a chance these requests may be moving forward,” Texas Tech spokesperson Matthew Dewey said in a statement. The university would use the total $206 million to renovate several buildings across its campuses, some of which are about 65 years old.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday urging him to add tuition revenue bonds to the special session call.
“There have been requests and demands from schools across the state,” Patrick wrote. Members in the House and the Senate want to address this need, he continued, but the House parliamentarian indicated that it needs to be included in the call before a bill can be passed.