Mad Men

This week the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature kicked off in Austin. Check out this new interactive map to find your legislator on your next visit to the capitol, and sign up for Orange and Maroon Legislative Day on February 15th to help advocate for higher education issues impacting our state’s research institutions.

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They're Back ...

Tuesday marks the kickoff of the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature and higher education is among the many issues lawmakers will address in the coming months. (Watch video of the Texas Tribune’s Symposium previewing the Session here.) One issue already driving headlines is in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have conveyed differing views on the issue with Straus setting it up as an economic versus a political one. “There’s no debate at all that we need more and better-skilled people in our workforce,” Straus said. “I see no benefit to the state, or to the state’s future, by limiting the success of people who’ve played by the rules and have qualified for higher education and who can become successful citizens of the state of Texas and productive in our economy.”

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A gift, a loss and a "bit of a pause" ...

This week James and Miriam Mulva, and the Mulva Family Foundation donated $50 million to build a neuroscience clinic at The University of Texas Dell Medical School. The gift, which will be paid out over 10 years, could complement a proposal by state Sen. Kirk Watson, “to remake the aging Austin State Hospital into a cutting-edge site for mental illness research” and turn Austin into a center for mental health. The Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences will investigate Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder and stroke among other neurological disorders. The Mulvas also gave $25 million for cancer research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

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On Probation

“If you want to ensure that only wealthy students and upper middle-class students can afford to go to Texas public colleges and universities in the future, do away with tuition set-asides,” said Tom Melecki, former director of financial services at UT Austin recently. Set-asides, a portion of tuition carved out to help low and middle-income students afford college, are in the news again as the Legislative agenda is rolled out ahead of the next Session. Lt. Gov Patrick has dubbed the set-asides as a “hidden tax” and vowed to get rid of them in the name of lowering college costs. However, concern has risen about whether the Legislature would actually fund an alternate method to provide aid if set-asides are eliminated. As the Rivard Report notes, “In a state like Texas, the danger is that once funds are gone, they are gone. Lawmakers in recent sessions have showed little willingness to spend budget surpluses when they have them, and all signs point to a tighter year in 2017.”

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Chilling to Academic Discourse

The first bills filed in advance of the 85th Texas Legislative Session provide a preview of the likely mood toward higher education when lawmakers convene in Austin in January. One bill getting the attention of education stakeholders wasfiled by State Sen. Charles Schwertner and calls for a cap on tuition and fees at public universities to combat rising tuition rates. It does not address the decline in state support for the institutions. Coalition Advisory Committee Member, Bobby Inman, continues to be a voice calling on lawmakers to acknowledge their role in rising college costs. He told the Statesman that the Legislature wants “to be seen politically as really helping those students who are getting in debt. I have that same great concern, but I know how it came about. It came about because of dramatically declining state funding for higher education.” For his part, Schwertner laid out his case in an editorial for the Texas Tribune.

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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.”

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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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