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Governmental Relations

Legislative Update - Friday, March 04, 2011

Rainy Day Fund

Opposition to using the Rainy Day Fund seems to be softening as lawmakers have sat through weeks of testimony about the effects of balancing the budget through an all-cuts approach.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts is preparing to ask his committee early next week to vote to take $4.3 billion out of the state’s rainy day fund to close a shortfall in the current biennium. Governor Rick Perry is to meet Monday with the House Republican Caucus to dissuade members from voting to use that money to cover current biennium shortfalls. No indication as to the use of the Rainy Day fund for the 2012-013 budget. Comptroller Susan Combs and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden appear willing to use the rainy day fund.

Developmental Education

Stan Jones of “Complete College America” and former Indiana Commissioner of Higher Education, testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Higher Education on February 24. Citing a very low percentage of developmental education students that go on to complete a degree or certificate, he testified that there is little evidence that developmental education makes any difference in completing higher education. And even when students complete their developmental education, students don’t take the gatekeeper courses for which they have been preparing. He said the developmental education system is broken and cannot be fixed. He proposed a “Stacking” system  of education that allows a student to take a developmental course while at the same time taking the college credit course. He cited success with this system in Tennessee and New York.     
 
Commissioner Raymund Paredes also testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Higher Education on February 24.  He proposed that reading and writing be combined in developmental education. He noted that the Achieving the Dream program has shown marginal improvement in remedial education.  He advocated for 10 percent of formula funding be based on Momentum Points and that this program be implemented in the second year of the next biennium.

He said that Momentum Points will lead to increase success in retention and graduation of students. Non-completion of a degree or certificate leads to a loss of personal money, loss of financial aid dollars, state investment, and property taxes.  Commissioner Paredes testified that the community colleges have a more complex mission than universities.

Momentum Points

Alamo Colleges Trustee Roberto Zarate, representing the Community Colleges Association of Texas Trustees, testified before the House Higher Education committee on March 2.  He testified against HB 9 that calls for withholding formula funding to community colleges and awarding those funds based on the successful completion of: developmental education in Math, successful completion of developmental education in English, successfully passing with a grade of “C” or higher the first college level Math course, the first college level English course, completion of the first 30 semester hours, transfer to a 4 year college or university after successful completion of at least 15 semester credit hours and the total number of associate degrees and certificates awarded.  Mr. Zarate opposes HB 9 on the basis that Momentum Points funding should be part of an incentive program and not a part of formula funding.  He cited the lack of reimbursement for increased enrollment and cited Alamo Colleges initiatives that lead to student success such as  Achieving the Dream and College Connections programs.  He welcomes Momentum Points as accountability measures.  Joining Mr. Zarate in opposition to HB 9 were Dr. Richard Rhodes, President, El Paso Community College, representing the Texas Association of Community Colleges, and Luis Figueroa of MALDEF.  
 
At the same hearing, Pat Molina Rabb, Texas American Federation of Teachers, made the point that community college funding is not what its suppose to be, transferring a portion of inadequate funds was an inappropriate move and that funding on educational outcomes should be from a separate incentive fund.
 
In opposing HB 9, Dr. Rhodes cited the fact that Momentum Points are based on a model that originated in the State of Washington and uses as incentive a one percent add on over and above based funding.  Dr. Rhodes emphasized that this is not the time to implement Momentum Points based on the fact that community colleges are facing proposed cuts in retirement and group health insurance benefits.

Concealed Handguns on Campus

Senator Jeff Wentworth and Senator Carlos Uresti appeared before the Political Science Club of A&M University – San Antonio on March 3.  Senator Wentworth noted that under his handgun bill, SB 350, students and faculty would not need to advise campus police, faculty, or administrators that they are carrying a concealed handgun. If passed, the law will go into effect after Labor Day of this year. Students, faculty and staff would be allowed to carry a concealed handgun on campus. Senator Uresti noted that the mass killings at Ft. Hood occurred in a military base among armed soldiers and military police.  An informal poll conducted by Senator Uresti among those in attendance showed a 50/50 split for the bill.  See related comments by Dr. Bruce Leslie that appeared in today’s Inside Higher Education.

Next Week

Wednesday, March 9, Higher Education Committee Hearings on:
 
HB 33 – relating to measures to increase the affordability of textbooks used for courses at public institutions of higher education.
 
HB 136 – relating to restrictions on dropping courses at public institutions of higher education.  
 
HB 650 - relating to property held by certain junior colleges and presumed abandoned.  
 
HB 736 – relating to online institutions resumes for public institutions of higher education.
 
Leo Zuniga
Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications