Briefing Room: May 14, 2019

Posted May 14, 2019

Advocacy

UT Tower and Main Building from Front

The state budget is always the number one issue facing UT Austin during legislative session. As of this writing, higher education stakeholders have been pleasantly surprised with the proposed budgets from each chamber. Advocates are grateful that higher education has champions in the Texas Legislature.  

The Texas House and Texas Senate have both passed their versions of the budget with a $3.4 billion difference. Highlights from both chambers include: Increasing Foundation School Program (FSP) funding by $9.0 billion, and creating a state flood plan with $840 million. Following the passage of HB 1, the House called for a conference committee, leaving the Senate budget bill under advisement.   

The group of five Representatives (Reps. Zerwas, Longoria, Davis, Bonnen, and Walle) and five Senators (Sens. Taylor, Nelson, Kolkhorst, Huffman, and Nichols) will meet to consider the differences between their two versions of the budget and return an agreed version back to each chamber for approval. The final budget will determine the state’s financial priorities for the next two years. 

The budgets from both chambers increase proposed formula funding and, overall, are positive for UT Austin. Neither budget proposal removed funding for non-formula support items, such as the TexNet seismic monitoring program contained within UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology. Supplemental funding included additional resources for UT Austin’s Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, which sustained significant damage from Hurricane Harvey Funding to rebuild certain facilities at UTMSI were included in both versions of the budget, with the Senate appropriating $14.5 million and the House appropriating $10.5 million. 

Student financial aid, research funding, and formula funding are critical for our institutions of higher education to support a powerful Texas economy with an educated workforce. The Texas Exes legislative priorities included points relating to each of these higher education topics addressed in the state budget.  

The Texas Exes asked the legislature to retain current funding amounts, if restoring funding to 2009 levels was not possible.  

The legislature uses funding formulas to distribute available state appropriations to higher-education institutions. Both chambers increased their proposed formula funding; the Senate increased their formula funding by a little more than the House. This is a huge step forward from previous sessions to restoring funding necessary for institutions of higher education.  

House Budget:  

The House subcommittee adopted $4,153.1 million in All Funds for 2020-21 (General Revenue: $3,021.2 million and General Revenue-Dedicated: $1,131.9 million) and provides an annual rate of $56.97 for formula funding for general academic institutions. 

Senate Budget: 

The SB 1 workgroup adopted $4,185.6 million in All Funds for 2020-21 (General Revenue: $3,053.7 million and General Revenue-Dedicated: $1,131.9 million) and provides an annual rate of $57.42 for formula funding for general academic institutions. 

The Texas Exes asked the legislature to strengthen support for the TEXAS Grant program by creating an incremental increase in funding with the goal of eventually supporting 100 percent of eligible students.  

State support for financial aid is critical to increase accessibility of higher education. The House and Senate maintained the 2018-2019 General Revenue funding levels while creating an exceptional item request to continue to increase support for eligible students.  

Senate and House Budgets: 

For the TEXAS Grant program, an increase of ~40M annually was allocated in both House and Senate committee subs to HB 1, for a total allocation of $866 M. This would support approximately 58 percent of eligible students at the $5,000 target award amount and 54 percent at the increased target award amount. The program supported 72, 142 students in Fiscal Year 2017. This also includes an exceptional item request to eventually support 70 percent of eligible students, with a 2.5 percent increase each year to the target award amount, currently $5,000.  

The Texas Exes asked the legislature to invest in research programming at public Tier One institutions through the Texas Research University Fund and the Governor’s Research Initiative.  

Research at UT Austin not only creates life-saving and important developments in research and technology, it allows students to get a practical, hands-on education and the real-world experience they need to succeed. The Legislature did provide funding for the Texas Research University Funding in their budgets.  

House Budget:  

In HB 1, the subcommittee adopted $278.5 million in General Revenue to restore the Texas Research University Fund, the Core Research Support Fund, and the Comprehensive Research Fund to 2016-17 funding levels. These funds ensure that UT Austin and other research universities can provide critical support for undergraduate and graduate level research. 

Senate Budget: 

In CSSB 1, UT Austin’s funding allocation is $54,829,248 million from the Texas Research University Fund for fiscal years 2020-2021, reflecting static appropriations from the current biennium.  

Student financial aid, research funding, and formula funding are critical to advancing higher education. Advocates are comfortable with either version of the budget and excited to see the final product. When they are not working on the budget for the state, the House and Senate are debating policies and bills that affect higher education.  

  • Multiple bills that look to reform Title IX-related policies are being considered, with legislators voicing their concerns for the possible changes to come at the federal level. Sen. Watson’s bill SB 585 has been reported from committee and Rep. Howard’s bill HB 1735 passed to engrossment and has been left pending in committee in the senate. This bill seeks to address sexual violence on college campuses by providing a comprehensive update to the policies and procedures required for institutions about allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and dating violence, including preventive, educational, supportive, and disciplinary elements.   

  • The topic of free speech on college campuses has come up in multiple bills by members. Rep. Charlie Geren’s HB 3395 requires that institutions ensure that common outdoor areas are deemed to be traditional public forums and allow individual to engage in expressive activities in those areas; this bill was left pending in committee. The companion legislation, SB 18 by Sen. Joan Huffman, has passed the Senate and been voted out of House committee.  Rep. Cain’s HB 2100 also seeks to ensure that the right to free expression is protected while on college campuses; the bill has been engrossed and received by the senate. 

  • Other notable higher education bills include Sen. Bettencourt’s SB 1162, left in committee, which relates to student success-based funding for institutions of public education, and an anti-hazing bill, SB 38 by Sen. Zaffirini which is engrossed and currently in the House calendars committee. Sen. Zaffirini authored an op-ed in the Daily Texan to discuss how her bill will enhance safety and increase transparency on college campuses in Texas.  

  • UT Austin is working alongside Texas A&M and other universities to create a mutually-agreed upon process with community colleges on how course credit should transfer between institutions of higher education to help maximize credit towards a student’s degree plan.  SB 25 by Sen. Royce West has passed the Senate and is awaiting House action. 

More general updates relating to UT Austin include:  

  • Led by Sen. Watson, UT’s Dell Medical school has partnered with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to bring Austin State Hospital into the 21st century, with updated health care practices.  

  • The Lions Municipal Golf Course has not been heavily discussed this session; UT extended the lease for a year and are currently working to have an agreement with the city moving forward.