'Robin Hood' for Higher Ed?

As budget battles in the Legislature heat up, the question of whether or not lawmakers will tap into the Rainy Day Fund continues to be a hot topic of discussion at the capitol – and on the state’s editorial pages. The Eagle this week laid out the case for why lawmakers should access the fund for public and higher education needs, saying the fund should “not be sacrosanct” … “It would be a shame to let our students suffer because of a refusal to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.”

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Read my lips: No More Bills

Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.

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The Budget, McRaven, SXSW & Rick Perry

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has encouraged his chamber’s budget writer to dip into the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to address the state’s budget challenges. This week House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Zerwas filed House Bill 2 that would access $1.4 billion from the fund. “I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers,” said Straus. “Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations.”

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Budget Cuts, Sexual Assault and Waivers

“Sadly, as a new dean, one of my first decisions was to cut the class size.” That decision, by Carrie Byington, the new dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, was based on “substantial funding cuts” looming in the Legislature in both the House and Senate versions of the budget. The cuts create uncertainty, which disrupts planning for the school and future students. Byington also lamented the likely cuts to special item funding, which will impact programs such as Healthy South Texas, an education program that has reached more than 300,000 people since 2015 on topics such as diet, exercise, chronic condition management and Zika prevention.

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Significant Consequences

This week Longhorns and Aggies joined forces at the Capitol to call on Texas Legislators to restore formula funding and support research initiatives, among other priorities. “UT-Austin and Texas A&M really are the two premier universities in the state of Texas,” said UT System Chancellor William McRaven at the eight annual Orange and Maroon Legislative Day. Alumni volunteers visited lawmakers’ offices alongside of the presidents of both institutions, listened in as resolutions were read in both legislative chambers to commemorate the day, and participated in a press conference and a reception to round out the day.

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Latest Updates

  • 'Robin Hood' for Higher Ed?

    As budget battles in the Legislature heat up, the question of whether or not lawmakers will tap into the Rainy Day Fund continues to be a hot topic of discussion at the capitol – and on the state’s editorial pages. The Eagle this week laid out the case for why lawmakers should access the fund for public and higher education needs, saying the fund should “not be sacrosanct” … “It would be a shame to let our students suffer because of a refusal to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.”

    Continue reading
  • Read my lips: No More Bills

    Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.

    Continue reading

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