Michael Kiely

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

In a continued effort to prioritize higher education in this year’s legislative session, a group of six legislators are working to provide a tax exemption on certain textbooks. 

Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso), Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) and Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), individually filed bills that would offer part-time or full-time students at accredited public or private universities a tax exemption on textbooks each semester. 

If passed, each of the bills would set a time period during which students could purchase textbooks tax-free. 

“As we discuss curving tuition cost and financial aid opportunities, it was important for us to look at the spiking cost in textbook costs that students have to purchase each year,” Hernandez said.  

Canales, Hernandez and Schwertner’s bills set aside a week-long exemption period at the start of each semester. Zaffirini’s bill set aside 10 days, Lucio’s set aside one month and González’s set no time limit on the tax exemption.

Michael Kiely, course materials director at University Co-op, said the first week of the semester is typically the busiest for textbook sales and said the store would support sales tax exemptions.

“I’m not entirely sure what the impact of a sales tax exemption would have on textbook sales, but I can’t help but think it would be a positive thing for the consumer,” Kiely said in an email to The Daily Texan. “This is an initiative that would help lower the cost of course materials for students at UT, and the Co-op would be in favor of that.”

Canales said he hopes the bill will help more students afford day-to-day expenses while attending college. 

“Education is the greatest equalizer, so, essentially, what these bills do is they make education more affordable,” Canales said.

Schwertner said passing a textbook tax exemption bill is “the least we can do” to aid students who are struggling financially.

“The fact is, the cost of higher education is rising faster than Texas families can … keep up,” Schwertner said. “The price of tuition, fees and textbooks have all risen dramatically over the last decade, and, collectively, they are turning the dream of a college education into a nightmare for more and more Texas students.”

Since 1999, similar bills have been filed in the State House of Representatives and Senate but failed to pass, with the last bill filed in the 83rd legislative session. Zaffirini said the bill failed because of concerns over revenue loss.

Zaffirini said her most recent bill will only apply to students eligible for financial aid — a factor she thinks will lessen the bill’s financial impact on the state and increase its chances of passing. 

“In the past, we have heard opposition from certain municipalities that rely on sales tax revenue from textbook sales,” Zaffirini said. “We are hopeful that they will be more amenable to this session’s revised legislation.”

Hernandez said she thinks lowering the cost of higher education is an opportunity for Republican and Democrat lawmakers to work together.

“There are so many issues we can work on in a bipartisan fashion,” Hernandez said. “I think this is one of them. We are interested in helping our college students not graduate with so much debt and making education more accessible to everyone.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The University Co-op main store on Guadalupe Street will be shelving textbooks alphabetically by the first author’s last name, instead of by class title, for the fall semester.

Michael Kiely, the Co-op’s director of course materials, said shelving books by class was “very inefficient.”

“A lot of courses here at UT are cross-listed," Kiely said.

Under the old system, the Co-op put the same set of books in multiple places in the store. Kiely said books would run out in one class but still be available in another, causing confusion.

According to Kiely, the Co-op decided to reachout to other campuses and visited the Brigham Young University Bookstore, which sorts its books alphabetically by author.

“Prior to this year, we had really big tags that were hard to read,” said Kristen Hilbert, the Co-op’s director of e-commerce. Hilbert said the new tag would only list the author’s name, the book’s title, new price, used price and rental price – the class won’t be listed.

“Our dream would be to have electronic tags,” she said.

Hilbert, a UT alumna, said the store now has a large area for computers and printers where students can print out their reading lists, an idea also adapted from the BYU store.

When it comes to price competition, Hilbert said the Co-op strives to be “transparent” through its online price comparison system – accessible from the class listing on the University’s website – which compares the Co-op’s in-store prices to other sellers’ online prices. In some cases, the Co-op has also successfully negotiated with publishers to get specialized editions for UT students with significantly lower prices, she said.

Darren Jones, manager of the Co-op’s east location on Medical Arts Street, said his store will wait to see how the main store handles the change and continue shelving books by class for the fall semester.