- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas Department of Transportation has suspended a program that paid college tuition of employees after a newspaper’s investigation raised questions about whether some of the payments violated state law.

The department’s chief of staff, Rich McMonagle, informed workers in an email Monday night about the decision to temporarily stop the Tuition Assistance Program, the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1GeTI58 ) reported. A department spokeswoman confirmed the suspension.

Administrators are considering changes to the program, and, McMonagle wrote, “It is our intent that the program will restart after revisions with enough time to minimize disruptions to participants.”

No new enrollments will be allowed under the suspension, he said. Current participants may complete their classes but can’t register for new ones.

The Texas Department of Transportation has paid out at least $13 million since 1993, the most of any state agency, according to a database maintained by the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Nearly 850 employees have received payments, and each received an average of around $12,600.

McMonagle sent his email a day after the newspaper reported the department possibly violated Texas law by spending more than $500,000 on degree programs that weren’t related to the job duties of recipients. The newspaper also found the agency issued all payments before the beginning of classes, a controversial practice because it doesn’t make employees prove that they have passed their courses.

The newspaper reviewed payment records and policies and found that over the past two decades, Texas agencies have spent at least $30 million on tuition payments for state workers in a program with lax rules and oversight.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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