SENATE APPROVES BILL TO LIMIT TUITION GROWTH
|Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger carried the measure to limit tuition increases at Texas public universities.|
(AUSTIN) — Texas public universities would have to meet certain goals if they wanted to increase tuition above inflation under a measure passed by the Senate Thursday. Tuition growth has been a major concern at the Capitol since the Legislature voted to de-regulate tuition in 2003. Since that time, tuition has increased by 104 percent according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, causing many lawmakers to worry that the cost of tuition has become unaffordable for most families. SB 778 author and Higher Education Committee Chair Kel Seliger said that colleges that want to raise tuition need to justify it. "If an institution wants to charge more, they must provide more," he said.
Under the bill, college performance would be judged by eleven metrics. These would be criteria such as graduation rate, average time to graduation, number of degrees awarded to at-risk students, and managing administrative costs. The targets for these metrics would be set by individual boards of governors, but an amendment to the bill by Austin Senator Kirk Watson would let the Coordinating Board set minimum goals. In order to raise tuition, an institution would have to meet goals for a majority of the metrics.
The bill was amended to put in place overall limits on the growth of tuition, regardless if a college meets achievement goals. Colleges and universities wouldn't be able to increase tuition more than three percent over inflation. Until the new achievement criteria go into effect after the 2017/2018 school year, the bill would prohibit any university from raising tuition more than one percent plus inflation.
Also Thursday, the Senate passed a bill that would prevent law enforcement officials from searching a person's phone without a warrant. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that warrantless searches of cell phones was unconstitutional, Justice Samuel Alito charged state legislatures with placing conforming language within statute. SB 1864, by Colleyville Senator Konni Burton, would do just that. Without a warrant, a police officer could only search a cell phone if the owner consents, or if the phone belongs to a fugitive, is reported as stolen, or in a life-threatening situation.
In committee action Thursday, the Senate Education Committee considered a bill that could allow more children to enroll in high quality pre-kindergarten programs in Texas. HB 4, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, would set forth a framework for funding and accountability for pre-k programs for public schools. "Improving the quality of pre-k and focusing on the critical foundation of early education could not be more important," she said.
Schools could apply for funding to implement half-day pre-k programs to serve at-risk and disadvantaged students. Programs would have to ensure quality by meeting a series of standards, including having teachers that are certified and trained in early education, and programs would have to meet education standards set by the state education commissioner. The ultimate amount of money set aside for this program has yet to be determined, as lawmakers are still negotiating the state budget, but the bill would cap pre-k funding at no more than $130 million biennially.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, May 4 at 11 a.m.