What to Watch During the 2023 Texas Legislative Session

Every new year brings another semester, another bluebonnet season, and new hopes for Longhorn football. And every other year? The legislature comes together to make decisions for Texans across the state—including ones that affect the Forty Acres.

This year, lawmakers convene at the Capitol for the 88th time. Debates on education are sure to continue as fraught conversations around COVID-19 policies, lesson plans, book bans, and athletics have carried on since the last session ended.  

The Texas Exes and their Aggie counterparts, the Association of Former Students of Texas A&M, will gather for the biennial Orange & Maroon Legislative Day—when Longhorns and Aggies come together to advocate for their universities on Feb. 15, 2023. But throughout the session, many alumni will make the case to the Legislature that UT Austin should receive its slice of the pie.  

Here’s what UT Advocates have their eyes on as we watch the session unfold this year.  

Where we left off with public education 

Still solidly in the throes of the pandemic, the legislature looked a little different from past sessions. But nonetheless, bills were passed, including one requiring public schools to restrict athletic competitions based on biological sex and another limiting how schools teach certain topics as “critical race theory” debates reached a zenith.  

In a bill appropriating COVID-19 relief funds, UT Austin received $3 million to rebuild dorms at the Marine Science Institute destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, and the Briscoe Garner Museum fund reduction from last session—$235,000—was restored.   

UT Austin also received $56.1 million to renovate the Microelectronics Center at the Pickle Research campus and $56.1 million to renovate the Physics, Math, and Astronomy building through a bill issuing revenue bonds to fund capital projects at public institutions of higher education. 

What to watch in 2023 

University funding is almost always an issue up for debate each legislative session, and this time should be no different. Money from the state comes from a few different funds, but when adjusted for inflation, UT Austin has seen a more than 40 percent decrease in state funding since 1984. The UT System mainly receives funding through the Permanent University Fund. 

How UT’s endowment works 

In 2021, the UT System had the second-largest endowment in the country at nearly $43 billion—second only to Harvard. But half of that endowment comes from land leases on 2.1 million acres in West Texas, which the Texas Constitution set aside to support The University of Texas and Texas A&M systems of higher education in 1876. The revenue from leasing that land to oil and gas companies makes up the Permanent University Fund (PUF). From the PUF comes the Available University Fund (AUF). One-third of the AUF is required to go to the Texas A&M University System, while the UT System receives the other two-thirds. UT Austin only receives 12 percent of the total AUF, which is allocated to specific resources and makes up 9 percent of UT Austin’s $3 billion budget—about $250 million. 

But in terms of state funding… 

In 2011, higher education across the state suffered substantial cuts to base funding levels that haven’t been restored—now we’re entering this legislative session with a large budget surplus. Advocates will be arguing that said surplus should be invested in higher education.  

On even years, the Higher Education Coordinating Board calculates a formula to determine how to distribute funds to the state’s higher education institutions. The board’s recommendations are presented to the Legislative Budget Board on June 1. There are two major components: instruction and operations, and infrastructure support.   

Let’s get specific 

Advocates are hoping for more funding specifically for the Dell Medical School to help fund research and enrollment as the school works to transform health care in a world still dealing with COVID-19.  

Another big priority is getting more funding for research through an enhancement to the Texas Research University Fund (TRUF), which provides roughly $1.2 million in investment for every $10 million in research expenditures at UT Austin and Texas A&M College Station. 

Additionally, UT advocates are asking the legislature to fully fund the TEXAS Grant Program, which provides financial assistance to eligible students, but in recent years has not been able to supply funds to all eligible students. For the 2016–17 biennium, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board estimated that the TEXAS Grant appropriations funded 89 percent of eligible incoming students. 

CREDIT: Sam Kalda


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