Bills propose changes for education even with cuts

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While Texas House members moved forward Thursday tentatively approving changes to education, Gov. Rick Perry reiterated his plan to increase college affordability.

The House’s proposed budget, which the 150-member chamber approved earlier this month, will cut higher education appropriations by more than $400 million and will cut the TEXAS Grant program in half.

Textbook Affordability
A textbook affordability bill authored by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, won tentative approval in the House today. The bill would require students to have access to a list of course textbooks before registration.

“It is about trying to reduce the cost of textbooks,” Branch said. “It also brings our state statute in alignment with the Higher Education Opportunity Act.”

The federal act — which went into effect after the 2009 Texas legislative session — lowers costs of course materials and allows price transparency from publishers and universities. Branch’s bill would align state law with the federal statute.

SBOE Redistricting
Lawmakers are also facing the task of redrawing election maps for various offices, including the State Board of Education, the agency that sets curriculum standards for Texas public schools.

As part of the redistricting process this session, House members supported a new map by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, in a preliminary vote mostly along party lines. Representatives will hear public testimony today and again on Sunday, while Solomons said he would like to see a vote “as soon as possible.”

Democratic members said the new map did not satisfy minority growth in the state, although Solomons said it was “fair” to everyone.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, offered that it would increase representation in heavily urban, minority areas. The House Committee on Redistricting tabled Alonzo’s proposal.

“They should be allowed influence and vote for someone of their choice,” said Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who supported Alonzo’s amendment.

Solomons did not accept the amendment because he said it broke up current districts and changed the map too much. He said the bill is likely to be heard again next week, giving members the weekend to submit their amendments to the bill.

State of Higher Education
Perry gave an address on the state of higher education and the changes he would like to see in the coming future.

“We still face challenges in our higher education system, challenges we must overcome to maintain our status as a national economic leader,” Perry said. “I’ve said before, change often doesn’t come easy, and our state university systems have a lot to be proud of.”

Perry said the proposed measures, including four-year tuition freezes, would help make universities more affordable, accountable and accessible.

“I’ve challenged our institutions of higher learning to leverage new technology to create a bachelor’s degree program that costs no more than $10,000 — books included,” he said.

Perry recommended outcome-based funding which would fund universities according to how many graduates they have yearly versus funding based on enrollment numbers.

“This is a vital issue because every student who can’t afford to go to college or gives up early due to the cost is a lost opportunity, not just for that individual, but for our state as well,” he said.