Adequate funding was the number one issue for the Texas Association of College Teachers (TACT). The initial legislative appropriations bill introduced in January was harsh toward universities, with cuts ranging from six to ten percent. Higher education appropriations had fared well in 2015, but the Texas Comptroller’s revenue estimate for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not promise any extra gravy to spread around. In late May, the contrast between competing House and Senate versions exceeded a billion dollars.
In the end, a combination of using the Rainy Day Fund and delaying certain scheduled payments provided some relief. Overall, higher ed spending will increase slightly – 2.34 percent, not including community colleges. Some universities still saw reductions, but The University of Texas will see a three percent increase while Texas A&M rises 1.6 percent.
Similarly, TEXAS Grant, the primary state student financial aid program, dodged a bullet: a ten percent increase ($71 million) will enable it to assist 92 percent of eligible students, up from an estimate of 57 percent of students in an earlier version. Bills which would have frozen tuition or limited tuition increases, and eliminated the set-asides of certain university income for scholarships did not survive the legislative process. “Special Items” were not so lucky. These programs historically have been funded outside the normal formula process. They were cut 27 percent.
The Hazlewood Act is an increasingly expensive unfunded mandate to universities requiring them to provide educational benefits to veterans and their dependents. TACT’s position is that legislative programs should be paid for in the Appropriations Act or the requirements should be eliminated. Veterans organizations are very good lobbyists, the unfunded mandate remains unchanged and increasingly costly.
And finally on the appropriations front, TACT was disappointed that more progress wasn’t made on public school finance reform. The House added $1.5 billion for K-12 but the Senate demanded as its price the use of public money for private education, usually known as variations of vouchers. Neither side budged.