Textbook bills aim to lower student costs as tuition rises

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This legislative session, students can keep their eyes on two higher education bills that could significantly alter how much textbooks cost in the coming semesters. UT alumni Rep. Jose Lozano, D-Kingsville, proposed a bill that would exempt textbooks from the required 8.25 percent sales tax. The bill, if passed, could take effect July 1. “I remember how much I’d pay for books,” Lozano said. “At that time it was $400-$500 a semester, and I remember how a portion of that was to sales tax.” The National Association of College Stores estimates the annual average sales of textbooks to be $667. In Texas, the semester average alone is $500, according to the association. Nineteen other states have some form of sales tax exemption for textbooks. Lozano said removing sales tax would cost students $45 million less per year. House and Senate budget recommendations proposed cuts to higher education funding, including eliminating some TEXAS Grant funding. “Tuition is going to increase and because of that I’m trying to find ways to save students money,” he said. “Students will get less financial aid. Anything helps.” Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, proposed a single textbook tax-free day last session, but that bill did not pass. “It will be more accepted than previous sessions because this session we face the second largest budget shortfall in the country,” Lozano said. “I want to help those students who will be on the receiving end of [budget] cuts.” Lozano expects to file another textbook bill by March that could facilitate a full transition from traditional textbooks to eBooks by 2020. Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, also proposed a bill that would mandate textbook sellers affiliated the University to post book information and prices prior to students’ registration times. Since the last session, in 2009, the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act went into effect, lowering costs of course materials and allowing transparency of prices from publishers and universities. Branch’s bill would align state law with the federal statute. “The point of this bill is to put out more information about books, options for content and prices in a timely fashion so that students can make choices about course selection,” he said. “It’s really about giving more flexibility to students.” Leon Long, a geology professor, requires his students to purchase a paperback textbook he authored which includes lab manual and course material in one book. Under Branch’s bill, publishers would be required to sell bundles in individual parts, allowing students to decide what they want to purchase. “Geology 303 is both lecture and lab, the [textbook] pages are perforated so you do homework, fill it in, tear the pages for grading, thereby ruining the textbook for resale,” he said. Long said textbooks are chosen by professors according to how well it goes with lecture material, often regardless of price which the publisher sets. “Suppose the publisher were required to print separate copies of textbook and workbook, as a professor I would be bound to choose both because one complements the other,” Long said. “The student would have to buy separate books and pay a lot more.” Long’s colleague, geology professor Laurie Duncan also teaches an Austin Community College course that requires two separate books. “The textbook costs [ACC] students $75 — we use an additional lab manual which is $90,” she said. “It seems to me like spirit of the bill is nice but the reality of it is publishers are going to find a way to make it expensive for students unless there is somebody like Dr. Long who offers both items in one book for about $100.”