WEEK IN REVIEW: TOP TEN PERCENT CHANGES PASS SENATE
| Senator Royce West and Senator Florence Shapiro negotiate a compromise on legislation aimed at changing the state's automatic college admission policy.|
(AUSTIN) -- Sweeping changes to the state's automatic college admission program, called the top ten percent rule, are headed over to the House with the Senate's Friday approval of a compromise measure. The top ten rule, which grants automatic admission to any state university to students that graduate in the top ten percent of their high school classes, has been a controversial measure in recent sessions. Proponents of the plan say it has increased diversity, not only racially, but economically and geographically. Critics say it restricts admissions officers, forcing them to consider only one criteria, grade point average.
Officials at the University of Texas at Austin have lobbied for change, saying 71 percent of the most recent freshman class was admitted under the rule. They point to a day where the only criterion considered for admission at UT is GPA. Friday's compromise would cap admissions under the top ten percent rule, which Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said is good for UT and good for students. "This is a good idea that will increase diversity at the University of Texas at Austin and give a more holistic approach to the selection for a lot of deserving students," he said.
Senate Bill 101, by Education Committee Chair Florence Shapiro, would cap admissions under the top ten rule to 50 percent of an incoming freshman class. Then admissions officers would select another 10 percent of that class from remaining top ten applicants using a broader selection criteria. The last 40 percent could be admitted under a traditional holistic review process. Students who qualify for automatic admission that don't get into their first choice of school because of the cap get admission at their second choice university. Also, in order to qualify, students must take at least the recommended high school curriculum.
The bill was amended by Senator Royce West of Dallas, one of the biggest supporters of the top ten percent rule, to sunset the changes in 2015, to ensure that admissions officials are still making diversity a top priority. Under this program, if it becomes law, universities would be given the option of participating. The only university where top ten admissions exceed 50 percent of the freshman class is UT-Austin, but Texas A&M enrolled 44 percent of last year's freshmen under automatic admissions.
A major amendment was added by Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, that would waive the statutory tuition, set at $51 per semester credit hour at state schools, for high school students that graduate in the top ten percent of their class. This will translate to savings of about $1500 per year for a student who qualifies. Ogden said this change will actually encourage state schools to go out and recruit top ten percent students, because the state's higher education funding formula will actually pay universities more money for students that don't have to pay statutory tuition. He added telling students that if you work hard, you will be rewarded, is an important public policy statement. "I would like you to consider this amendment as an economic incentive to reward top ten percenters, to encourage top ten percenters in our state, and it will work."
Also this week, the Senate approved a bill aimed at giving more property tax relief to cities and counties in Texas. This bill would allow city and county jurisdictions to increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent each, for a total of 0.5 percent, with that money dedicated to lowering local property tax rates, if approved by local voters. It also changes the rollback provision from 8 to 5 percent, meaning voters get to vote to reduce property tax increases if they exceed 5 percent in one year. Bill author Senator Kevin Eltife of Tyler said this could lead to real savings for property tax payers. "This could provide meaningful property tax relief for cities and counties if the voters approve it," he said.
Other legislation passed by the Senate this week includes:
- SB 966, by Ellis, would grant limited protection to journalists to keep confidential sources confidential;
- HJR 19, by Carona, would require both chambers to record and publish all contested votes;
- SB 1204, by Duncan, would reorganize the state's county and district court system and;
- SB 217, by Shapiro, would increases penalties against parents of chronically truant students.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 7, at 1:30 p.m.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.