Speaker Joe Straus appoints Texas House Higher Education Committee

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A mix of old and new faces will fill the House Higher Education Committee, which was announced Thursday.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus renamed state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chairman of the committee. State Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, will succeed former state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, as vice chair. Castro was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

In addition to Branch and Patrick, returning members include state Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Donna Howard, D-Austin; and John Raney, R-College Station. New members are state Reps. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco; Jim Murphy, R-Houston; and freshman Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches.

In a statement following the committee announcement, Howard said she looks forward to working with Branch as the committee addresses the state’s higher education needs.

“Our state’s position as an economic leader depends on a well-educated workforce,” Howard said. “We must ensure that our diverse population is prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

The new committee includes six Republicans and three Democrats, differing from the makeup of the previous membership, which included five Republicans and four Democrats.

Sherri Greenberg, former member of the Texas House of Representatives and director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said she does not think this slight shift in partisan alignment will significantly affect the committee’s decision-making process. 

“At this point, I don’t think it will be a big difference,” Greenberg said. “I think we will see a very reasoned debate.”

Some committee members have filed bills that would freeze tuition for undergraduates, tie more university formula funding to student success and establish a law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

Branch filed a bill that would require universities to offer students the option of paying fixed-rate tuition if they graduate within the time allotted by their degree plan. Branch also authored a bill that would tie 25 percent of university formula funding to student outcomes such as graduation rates. Gov. Rick Perry expressed support for both initiatives during his State of the State address Tuesday.

Martinez filed a bill that would allow the board of regents of a university system to establish a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties near the Texas-Mexico border.