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Texas universities push for bill funding construction to train more medical students amid shortage

The bill would authorize the state to release nearly $2 billion for public universities to fund infrastructure projects across their campuses.

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 Texas Woman’s University 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 $90 million for renovating an existing facility at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, $80 million for construction of health science education and research centers at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, $84 million for the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth campus and $49 million for a new Texas Woman’s University health sciences center at Denton.

Most health care programs at Texas Woman’s University 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 healthcare system.”

Nearly $300 million would also be allocated for the construction and renovation of science buildings at the University of North Texas at 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.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Valeria Olivares, Education Lab Reporting Fellow. Valeria is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News Education Lab focusing on higher education. She was born in El Paso, but was raised across the border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. She has previously interned at The San Antonio Express-News and The Texas Tribune. She loves internet culture and green tea-flavored sweets.

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