4/24/2009 4:31 PM
The logjam appears to have been broken. Today, the Senate Higher Education Committee passed out SB 1443 – Sen. Judith Zaffirini’s (D-Laredo) bill limiting college tuition. The bill is a consensus product representing the work of several senators. The tuition limit probably would not have happened were it not for the work of four Senators – Sens. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Royce West (D-Dallas). But more on that later.
Here’s a quick summary of the bill. For schools with tuition rates above the median, tuition increases are limited to five percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. For schools below the median, they get a couple of years where they can increase tuition by five percent of the median school’s tuition (so that schools that behaved responsibly are not unduly penalized). In addition, schools may create a four-year tuition freeze option where students can opt into a plan where tuition is frozen for all four years.
The bill phases out the 20 percent set-aside for financial aid, replacing that money with general revenue. It then requires universities to lower tuition by the amount of the replaced set-aside. The bill also allows the Legislature to set a limit on tuition in the general appropriations act.
If the senate acts on this bill promptly, it can provide substantial relief to middle-class families and help the GOP start digging out of the hole in dug for itself with middle-class suburban families. Of course, the bill still has to get out of the Senate (the votes are there, it’s just a question of how quickly the bill gets brought up), the House Higher Education Committee, and the House Calendars Committee.
Tuition has been in the news a lot lately. President Barack Obama had a news conference
on college affordability today. CBS-11 in Dallas did a story
noting that the salaries of the presidents of the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas have skyrocketed along with tuition. (Watch for some quotes from LSR contributing editor Peggy Venable in the story). Additionally, theAustin American-Statesman
quotes Speaker Joe Straus expressing concern about limits on tuition.
This would not have happened without the efforts of the four senators I mentioned above. When all the state’s key leaders pushed tuition “deregulation” (which is really a code-word for middle class tax increase), West and Williams had the guts to go to a UT Regents meeting and express their displeasure with runaway tuition increases. They have been pushing legislative proposals to limit tuition ever since. Hinojosa filed a bill to limit tuition increases and kept pushing it, despite all the work he has to do as vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. And by making this a campaign issue in his unconventional 2006 landslide victory, Patrick raised the visibility of this issue and sent a message to the GOP brass that the party leadership is on the wrong side of GOP voters on the tuition issue.