Executive Director's Column: 86th TX Legislative Session Review


by Chuck Hempstead, Executive Director, TACT

Overview

With another session behind us, it’s time to review how Texas higher education fared from the perspective of faculty as a result of TACT’s advocacy. Every session has its predicable big issues - in this case public school finance and property tax reform – and they absorbed most of the oxygen. As public ed is a large priority for TACT (see below), we appreciate the efforts made by the legislature to provide higher education with more and better-prepared students. The leadership (Gov., Lt. Gov., and Speaker) have made many statements about the comparatively civil approach to governing, and one might add the comparatively few high profile and divisive issues.


TACT Priorities

TACT entered the session with five priorities.


1. Higher Education Funding: Education received its $95 Billion (up 10 percent) share of the $250 Billion budget (up 16 percent), without proposals such as performance-based funding and eliminating special provisions. Chancellor Sharp commented that A&M-College Station was a big winner from the formula funding process due to enrollment growth, relative to the average school, but with the state goal (60X30TX) of increasing enrollment everywhere, universities are chasing slices of the same pie. With performance-based funding on its last gasp, a proposal was to dedicate the $100 million B-on-Time fund, which TACT has previously suggested should bolster the TEXAS Grant scholarship program. Tuition Revenue Bonds for construction projects didn’t make the cut this time as tradition holds that they are an every-other-session mechanism. TRS retirees will receive a one-time bonus of $2,000, with a soft promise of a future cost of living increase now that the TRS formula has been stabilized. Budget details may be found here. https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/pdf/HB00001F.pdf#navpanes=0


2. Freedom of Expression: One would think this the very essence of universities, and TACT wants to assure it. There have been statements that institutions have leaned toward promoting liberal speakers at the expense of conservative ones, and Senate Bill 18 attempted to level the playing field with requirements that universities adopt a plan and enforce it fairly, and includes sanctions for students and faculty members who interfere with the provisions.


3. Hazelwood Legacy Program: After another defeat last session to reform Hazelwood funding, legislators didn’t want to take up that fight again. $30 million was appropriated to refund some of the universities’ unfunded mandate, but not nearly as much as it is costing them to provide free higher education to veterans and their family members.


4. Public Education Funding: Like higher education, TACT members for some time are aware that the state’s contribution to public education has been slipping AND putting pressure on school districts to increase property taxes. The General Appropriations Bill increased funding by more than $11 Billion (including pay raises), added nearly $4 Billion to property tax relief while limiting the future tax increases and reduced the amount of recapture payments from certain districts. Interestingly, the bill includes a performance-based funding component similar to community colleges which has not yet been required for general academic institutions. The legislature and universities are hopeful that the many changes will contribute to better prepared college freshmen.


5. DACA: While understanding that DACA is primarily a federal issue, there was some consideration that non-citizen Dreamers should not be allowed in-state tuition. This was defeated. The budget again includes $800 million for border security, but another $100 million requested for border security (for “surge” contingency) requested by the governor was not included.


Other

A number of bills addressed sexual harassment and assault on campuses, including one which could penalize faculty who withhold known information from the reporting protocol. Senator West passed a bill to provide students with additional counseling and transferability of credits intended to streamline the graduation process, while some faculty may feel that their responsibility for curriculum decisions is impacted.


TACT testified on behalf of a bill which would permit public institutions the freedom awarded private schools to determine if they wish to opt out of the guns on campus statute, but it didn’t go anywhere. Constitutional carry was beaten back, except for one week following a natural disaster - a change harshly criticized by the Houston police chief. Guns will be allowed in houses of worship unless they specifically ban them. “Gun rights” are pursued incrementally, as an NRA lobbyist told us, and will be back next session.


Conclusion

If ignorance of the law is no excuse, you’d better start studying up on the 1,400 new ones. TACT will immediately begin preparing for the next legislative session in January 2021, including a June Board Meeting and October visits with legislative leaders. Please share this with colleagues and let us know how we may serve.

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