Earlier this month, the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee held a hearing on major legislation which could result in a big cut in tuition at Texas’ public colleges and universities.

Senate Bill 18 by State Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo), would repeal a fifteen-year-old mandate requiring public universities to “set-aside” 15 percent of university students’ tuition in order to fund scholarships for their classmates. Critics, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick say the program is simply a wealth redistribution tactic that takes money out of some families’ pockets to give it to others.

While the bill would end the mandate requiring public universities to tax students, most university administrators who testified at the hearing said they would maintain the program and continue to use the money raised in order to subsidize the tuition of some students at the expense of others.

The set-aside tax is far from insubstantial. At current tuition rates, a student pursuing a four-year degree pays thousands towards the 15% tax – often while being forced taking out loans to cover costs.

State Sen. Kirk Watson (D–Austin) and other Democrats were vocal in their opposition to the bill but it passed the committee along party lines, with State Sen. Royce West (D–Dallas) abstaining.

Admittedly, the bill in its current form would simply eliminate the set-aside mandate and allow universities to continue (or not continue) the tuition tax on their own. However, maintaining high tuition rates would be sure to draw the indignation of legislators, and that could be reflected in each university’s funding.

The refusal of university administrators to cooperate with the legislature entered the spotlight last session when the Texas Legislature passed a bill to allow concealed carry on campus. The bill allowed for limited restrictions to be adopted by university administrators and boards of regents.

Although most universities followed the law, and made good-faith efforts to enact positive campus carry policies, the University of Texas at Austin has actively sought out ways to undermine the law – stubbornly refusing to allow concealed carry in campus dormitories despite no lawful authority for the prohibition.

“Because some university administrators have shown they cannot be trusted to do the right thing when given a wink and a nod it is time to give them a shove,” said Vidal Castañeda, chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas’ University of Texas chapter.

“SB 18 should be amended on the floor to mandate that university administrators not only eliminate the wealth redistribution tuition tax, but also reduce the cost of attendance for students across the board,” added Castañeda.

Conservatives can expect the Texas Senate to advance the bill in the coming months, but reform efforts will face a much tougher path in the Texas House.

Austin Goss

Austin Goss is the Capitol Correspondent for Empower Texans and Texas Scorecard. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Austin is a Christian, soldier in the United States Army Reserves, and a student at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Austin on Twitter @AG_Legacy


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