Education prioritized for next legislative session

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With cuts to higher education on the horizon and textbook costs rising, college affordability is on the minds of many students, Texas student government leads said at a conference to set lobbying goals for the next legislative session.

The Texas Students Association, a group of student government leaders from Texas colleges and universities, met this weekend and voted to prioritize these topics when they lobby at the state legislature in the session that begins in January. The lobbying goals — tax free textbooks, maintaining state funding of universities — impact all students, representatives said.

“We have so many opportunities this legislative session to make a difference,” said John Lawler, the association’s chair and a liberal arts representative in UT’s Student Government. “These are things that if you walk up to a student on the sidewalk and ask if they support this, you won’t find anyone who doesn’t agree.”

Issues like domestic partner benefits, which would provide insurance benefits to the partners of GLBT employees, and concealed carry on campus did not make the list of legislative goals because it would be hard to accomplish goals that fall along such partisan lines, Lawler said.

Questions of partisanship came up anyway, as some representatives questioned whether the state legislature would be willing to prioritize higher education funding and financial aid while it tries to fill the estimated $21 billion budget shortfall in the spring. However, the group voted to go ahead with a push for increased funding and financial aid.

“I don’t care that it’s a Republican congress, if we want it and students want it, we should go get it,” said Oliver Sudduth about the fight against higher education budget cuts. Sudduth, an associate justice with the University of Houston-Downtown believes increasing state funding to higher education is a key part of keeping universities from having to raise tuition.

Campus Progress, the youth outreach arm of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, cosponsored the association’s Saturday conference, donating $400 to cover the event’s costs and provided a speaker to inform the representatives about the different avenues of state lobbying.

“It’s important for these students to continue to fight, because the fight for affordable education is a national fight, not just a Texas fight,” said Angela Peoples, the policy and advocacy manager of Campus Progress. “This is the kind of thing Campus Progress looks for to help students on the ground to help them advocate for what’s important to them.”