Dr. Lynn Stucky, Texas State Representative
On Sept. 1, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) opened the application portal to a new student loan repayment assistance program targeted at recruiting college-educated Texans to serve as peace officers. When the bill that authorized this program (SB16) passed the Texas House last year, I was elated because of the potential it has for the future of law enforcement.
I authored this bill because of my own personal experience with student debt. I came to Denton in 1983 as a new graduate of veterinary medical school, saddled with tens of thousands in student loans. Reality hit when I received that first bill and realized I couldn’t afford to buy a card table for my one-bedroom apartment. It took almost nine years to pay off three years of veterinary medical school loans. But the pressures of being a veterinarian pale in comparison to the responsibilities of our law enforcement officers.
The Peace Officer Loan Repayment Assistance Program, under the direction of the THECB, was created to spur the recruitment of new law enforcement officers. The idea: use a tuition repayment program to offer new recruits a de facto starting-salary boost by reducing their student loan burdens—up to $20,000 total over five years of service.
The following are primary requirements to qualify for the program: “…An applicant must be initially appointed as a full-time peace officer on or after September 1, 2019 … He or she must have earned at least 60 semester credit hours, or the equivalent, at an eligible institution of higher education in Texas prior to initial appointment as a peace officer … And he or she must be currently employed, and have completed at least one year of employment, as a full-time peace officer in Texas…”
In light of recent events, I believe this program is even more important than when I wrote the legislation last year. I have grave concerns that our state may be avoiding the difficult, but necessary, discussions about incidents of excessive force in favor of shortcut solutions like defunding police departments. That is not sustainable in the long run, and I am grateful that Denton County and its cities remain committed, as do I, to supporting all of our first responders.
The Peace Officer Loan Repayment Assistance Program will help bring in more recruits with higher critical thinking skills, varied backgrounds, and a wealth of interactions with diverse social groups. When combined with another bill I passed last session, HB 1891, Texans now have a pathway to public service even if they don’t currently have a high school diploma.
When young people ask me what they can do about the problems we face in society, I respond by telling them “If you want to change your community, serve your community.” Law enforcement is only one path to service.
Denton County is home to thousands of individuals working together through various organizations to serve children, the elderly, the homeless, and families in need. The things we do here in Denton County have shown a growing positive effect on all of North Texas, and we can continue to lead by improving public safety without tearing apart police departments.
If you would like to learn more about the Peace Officer Loan Repayment Assistance Program, visit hhloans.com or call the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Student Loan hotline at 512-427-6340.