What's new . . .
The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance met December 4-5, 2003, to hear invited testimony on revenue options for public school finance. The first day, the committee started with an overview of the state's tax system as presented by the Comptroller's Office. Other topics covered were the franchise tax, sales tax expansion, statewide property tax, a split tax roll, business gross receipts tax, and an income tax. The invited presenters included business officials, university professors, taxpayer and research association representatives, and state government representatives. On the second day, the committee heard presentations on payroll taxes, cigarette taxes, business taxes, the business activity tax, and the Michigan single business tax. Presenters were from the Nevada Taxpayers Association, Tobacco Free Kids, The Lone Star Foundation, and the J.C. Penney Corporation. Future hearings will include an opportunity for public testimony on revenue options. You can hear the testimony and committee discussions on the Internet at www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/commit/c880/c880.htm. Also, the following website for The Texas School Finance Project includes detailed information on the Joint Committee activities: www.capitol.state.tx.us/psf/capitol.htm.
Focus . . .
Higher education is a great benefit to both individuals and society. People with a college education earn larger salaries, see greater financial benefits over their lifetime, and have greater job satisfaction. Two issues that stand out with higher education in Texas are tuition deregulation and the top 10 percent policy.
Tuition deregulation was narrowly passed into law during the 2003 Regular Session after intense debate. The Legislature granted Texas' public universities the flexibility to set their own tuition rates to help offset the budget cuts they incurred. The law also allows universities to set tuition rates lower for courses that are traditionally not taken as often during certain times, such as nights and weekends. However, many District 16 residents have expressed concerns about the tuition increases reported in the news, and I share these concerns.
Texas' top 10 percent policy guarantees students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class automatic admission to the state college or university of their choice. This law was originally passed by the Legislature to create a greater level of diversity in college enrollment after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race could not be a factor in college admission decisions. Last summer the Court issued a new opinion allowing the use of race in admissions practices. There is increasing concern about the number of non-top 10 percent Texas students who are being denied admission to Texas' state colleges and universities even though they have exceptionally high GPAs and admissions test scores (SAT/ACT). Legislators are expected to revisit the 10 percent policy in the spring special session now that universities are once again using race as an admissions factor.
Two interim committees are already at work on these higher education issues. I am closely following the Joint Select Committee on Higher Education as well as the Legislative Oversight Committee. The Legislative Oversight Committee was formed to hold institutions of higher education accountable for graduation and retention rates, enrollment growth, and educational quality. However, the key function of the committee is to review information concerning the impact of tuition deregulation. Part of the Joint Select Committee on Higher Education's charge is to examine the current structure and organization as well as equity and adequacy of higher education funding. In addition, this committee will be identifying opportunities for legislative and administrative action relating to the consolidation or reorganization of university system office functions and services. Possible reductions in personnel and other cost saving measures are also being considered. Information on the Joint Select Committee is also available on the Internet at both the House and Senate websites: www.senate.state.tx.us and www.house.state.tx.us by clicking on "committees" and then on the committee name.
The same new law that gives Texas universities the power to increase tuition also requires them to set aside at least 20 percent of the new revenue for financial aid. So, if you were borderline eligible before, you may qualify now. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has created a website that is a great tool for locating information regarding college financial aid: http://www.collegefortexans.com. Many helpful hints, suggestions, and facts are available on the site. Here are a few topics that can be found:
- How to save for college
- Tips for reducing college costs
- Types of financial aid
- How to apply for financial aid
- College scholarships
- College grants
- College loans
Remember, you won't know if you qualify for financial aid unless you apply!
Did you know . . .
Did you know that the Texas Adopt-A-Beach Program in the Texas General Land Office has created the "Treasures of the Texas Coast" 2004 Children's Art Contest? The contest is open to students in grades K-6, and the purpose is to encourage young artists to learn about the natural resources found along the Texas coast and help spread the message that "Trashing Texas Beaches Isn't Cool."
The Land Office is sending contest information to public and private schools in Texas to encourage participation. Two winners will be selected from each of the 24 regional councils of governments in Texas. From the 48 finalists, one grand prize winner will receive two round-trip, coach-class tickets from Continental Airlines to any Continental destination in the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, and a class party at Schlitterbahn Waterparks (New Braunfels or South Padre). The grand prize winner's teacher will also receive two round-trip, coach-class tickets from Continental Airlines. Each entry must be postmarked by Monday, February 2, 2004, and submitted on an 8 _" by 11" sheet of white paper. Additional information is available from the Texas General Land Office at 1-877-TXCOAST (892-6278) or visit the ADOPT-A- BEACH Website at www.texasadoptabeach.org. No, we don't have any beaches in Senate District 16, but this contest is a great way to engage our students in learning more about Texas and promoting good citizenship.
I wish all of our young artists the best of luck with the contest.
SEASON'S GREETINGS AND BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.
State Senator - District 16