Invested in Texas

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“It’s 12:36, and UT is still underfunded,” more than 200 students shouted as they marched to the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday to protest the proposed higher education budget cuts. The Invest in Texas campaign organizes students to lobby the Texas Legislature to adequately fund UT, protect financial aid programs and keep the University academically competitive. Student Government, Senate of College Councils and Graduate Student Assembly started the program this semester, and it is open to participation from all students. More than 160 fourth grade Baranoff Elementary students in front of Bob Bullock Museum on a Texas history field trip joined the marchers’ “Texas fight” chants. Liberal arts representative John Lawler shouted over the crowd, encouraging the fourth graders and teachers to join in the protest. “Help us shout,” Lawler said. “We are marching and fighting for your future — this is for you.” Bernardino Villasenor — a member of Students Speak, an activist group formed last semester in response to the proposed budget cuts to the Liberal Arts ethnic studies centers — said it was impressive that students, regardless of affiliation, came together to contribute to the campaign. “Student Government is supposed to be our official voice on campus, so if they’re going to go out there to on our behalf, then I’m going to join because we have the common goal of fighting the budget cuts,” Villasenor said. SG executive director Jimmy Talarico said UT is a lucrative investment for Texas, bringing in millions of dollars in federal research grants, yet the current budget proposals disenfranchise students. “We are in danger now of being the first generation that doesn’t have room to expand its economy,” he said. “We don’t have room to start a family in this state as long as it’s no longer investing in UT-Austin and higher education institutions across Texas.” State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee, urged students to tell lawmakers they have a choice when it comes to taking funding from higher education. “Let them know that they are making the decision to sacrifice your future when there are other means of finding funding,“ Castro said. He said the Legislature should look into raising cigarette, alcohol and gaming taxes. The state has proposed up to $100 million from state and federal funding to UT, which could potentially lead to tuition hikes. State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who has three children at UT, said one way to ease the burden is lower textbook costs and continue working to increase transparency at the University Co-op. Branch has already taken initiatives to find ways to increase textbook affordability such as online copies and rental services. Under the current Senate budget proposal, higher education stands to lose $381 million in federal financial aid and the state’s largest financial aid program, TEXAS Grant, may have to reduce the number of recipients by half. Social work representative Berenice Medellin said she marched in representation of the many students in her school that will suffer at the loss of federal grants. “Its important to have our voices heard and show them that they aren’t just cutting numbers. Their actions are affecting real people,” she said.