Five Bills to Watch in the 2013 Legislature

Texas lawmakers filed more than 250 bills this week for the upcoming Texas Legislative session. Here are the top five that may affect UT.

House Bill 25 – Outcomes-Based Funding

Filed by House higher education committee chair Dan Branch (R-Dallas), HB 25 ties up to 25 percent of state universities’ base funding to outcomes, like number of degrees conferred, research impact, focus on vital workforce areas (like STEM), and help for at-risk students. Branch has mentioned the 25 percent mark before, though the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the state’s public higher education agency, suggested only 10 percent in its legislative recommendations.

What is unique this session, is a broad consensus between community colleges, universities, and our agency about an approach to outcomes-based funding.

“What is unique this session, is a broad consensus between community colleges, universities, and our agency about an approach to outcomes-based funding,” THECB spokesman Dominic Chavez noted. “The metrics that are on the table were developed by the universities.”

House Bill 29 – Fixed Four-Year Tuition

Also filed by Branch, HB 29 would allow state universities to set a four-year fixed tuition rate that would allow each incoming class, including transfer students, to pay the same tuition each year for four years, though presumably those rates could change for each freshman classes. The bill is designed incentivize on-time graduation. It is also a direct response to Gov. Perry’s call for fixed tuition rates.

The University of Texas at Dallas is currently the only UT System university with a four-year, fixed-rate tuition option, and has the highest tuition of any UT school. So far, UT-Austin has not commented on similar proposals. The University’s tuition is currently frozen for two years. Tuition was deregulated by the Legislature in 2003, and has increased by 55 percent in the past decade, while state general revenue funding has decreased.

President Bill Powers has expressed his openness to discuss predictable tuition rates. In his State of the University Address, Powers also noted that steady funding could aid the University in planning and cost management.

“Predictability and planning are also important for our campus, so the state should also show its commitment by providing predictable revenue streams for the same for years. Predictability aids planning, and planning promotes efficiency,” Powers said.

House Bill 30 – Improving Transfer Student Completion

Another bill filed by Branch, HB 30 is designed to facilitate on-time graduation of transfer students and codify the requirements for transferring, particularly from associates-granting institutions to universities.

Facilitating graduation of transfer students is a high priority for some policymakers. Texas students who start their college careers at community and technical colleges traditionally have very low graduation rates, even over six year periods. Making the process easier and more consistent is intended to help students finish and enter the workforce.

Senate Bill 26 – Tuition Revenue Bonds for Capital Projects

One of 30 bills filed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, SB 26 would authorize the use of tuition-revenue bonds (TRBs) to pay for capital projects at public universities. In essence, the bill would allow TRBs to be issued for major construction projects and paid from a university or university system’s general revenue.

Recommendations for forthcoming TRBs should be issued soon from the UT System Board of Regents and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The regents did not discuss UT-Austin related TRB proposals in their November 14-15 meeting. Once recommendations are approved, the bill will be amended with specific projects.

Senate Bill 27 – Changing the B-on-Time Loan Program

Also by Sen. Zaffirini, SB 27 is designed to improve the state’s perennially ailing B-on-Time Loan program. The program provides interest-free loans to Texas public university students who meet certain requirements, including a “B” average. Under more specific conditions, the entire loan can be forgiven.

Earlier this year, UT-Austin launched its own pilot debt-forgiveness program to help alleviate uncertain state and federal funding for loan programs. The progam, as well as B-on-Time, are designed to encourage on-time graduation and decrease student debt.

Others to watch:

Senate Bill 46 would exempt students from paying taxes on textbooks for a limited time.

House Bill 66 would create a pilot program to give high school students prepaid tuition at public institutions for community service.

House Bill 67 would allow for the foundation of a UT System law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

Creative Commons photo by Crashworks on Flickr.


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