House Higher Education considers bill to consolidate Valley schools first

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A bill to consolidate three UT System institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one university will be the first piece of legislation considered by the Texas House Higher Education Committee during this session.

Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature would combine UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American in Edinburg and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund. The fund, currently assessed at $1.3 billion for the 2014-15 biennium, allocates money to institutions in the UT and Texas A&M systems.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and committee chairman, said Wednesday that he promised members of the South Texas delegation to hear the bill at the committee’s meeting next week.

“It’s very, very exciting news,” Branch said.

The UT System Board of Regents approved spending $100 million of its own funds over 10 years to transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine, which will be part of the consolidated university. The System will also seek $10 million per year in state funds to assist the consolidation.

UT spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said System officials will give testimony on the bill.

“We are very pleased that Chairman Branch has recognized the importance of this legislation to the UT System, the region and the entire state of Texas by agreeing to set it as the first bill to come become the House Higher Education Committee,” LaCoste-Caputo said.