Schools still awaiting state funding

29 September 2003
Associated Press Newswires

SAN ANTONIO (AP) - A South Texas medical center with funding needs that have been mentioned during political debate over the series of legislative special sessions remains without enough money to adequately fund its future student programs.

Gov. Rick Perry, who helped welcome the first class of medical students to the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen in 2002, renewed his support earlier this year and, in recent months, said he might let lawmakers consider earmarking extra money for it.

In June, the Republican governor said he would consider putting the issue before legislators when they finished work on a GOP-driven congressional redistricting plan. But, with the Legislature meeting in its third special session this year, Perry has yet to add the issue to any special session agenda, which he controls.

If the RAHC doesn't get funding beyond the nearly million in the current two-year budget, officials might have to look at changes in the center's medical student program, said Armando Diaz, vice president of governmental relations for the University of Texas Health Science Center, which oversees the RAHC.

Health officials have called the regional medical program a powerful economic stimulus for the Lower Rio Grande Valley and a possible way to lure more doctors into the region.

But Diaz said that officials may have to consider a six-week rotation schedule rather than sending roughly two dozen third-year medical students annually from San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley for a full year of clinical training.

"They're being exposed to a lot of hands-on kind of training" in the yearlong program, he said, adding that the program also may encourage students to remain in the area.

Dr. Leonel Vela, the health center's regional dean, said officials would "need to consider all alternatives" without the extra funding. Meanwhile, he said, there's concern that San Antonio medical students will opt against the Valley because of the uncertainty.

"They are the decision-makers," Vela told the San Antonio Express-News in Monday's editions. "One can only assume that this undetermined support for the RAHC funding is impacting them."

The governor had said in June he would consider expanding that special session's agenda, mentioning funding for border health institutions, but Democrats were balking at support of the redistricting bill that was requested in exchange for the consideration.

Now, legislators may not address funding for the RAHC and a four-year medical school in El Paso until the spring, when Perry may call lawmakers back to deal with public school finance, says the head of the House budget-writing committee.

The governor's office maintains that his support for more RAHC funding remains solid.

"Those are still issues that are important, but we currently don't have anything working actively on them," said Rep. Talmadge Heflin, R-Houston, the House Appropriations Committee chairman. "Until we get into the budget cycle a little bit more, we don't know how much money we're going to have available."