Professors from around the state met in Austin for a legislative update.
By Wally Perez
Performance-based funding, a statewide hiring freeze and House Bill 417 were topics discussed during a legislative Q&A during the 70th annual Texas Community College’s Teacher Association conference Feb. 24 at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin.
In his state of the state address Jan. 31, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed all state agencies to impose a hiring freeze as a way to save $200 million.
“We are engaged in discussions about what that means for community colleges,” TCCTA lobbyist Beaman Floyd said.
Floyd led the discussion, answering questions and addressing concerns members of TCCTA had.
According to Floyd, community college employees are categorized as public employees not state employees.
Discussions are ongoing at the administrative level, he said.
Mario Muñiz, district director of public relations, said it’s not definitive and the Alamo Colleges are still seeking clarity.
Jacob Fraire, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, sent members an email requesting their thoughts on the freeze.
“TACC does not believe that the hiring freeze applies to community colleges. Indeed, the Legislative Budget Board’s 2018-19 report to the Legislature details that community colleges have zero state FTEs. We agree with the legislative budget board. Moreover, we have asked staff members of the governor’s office to confirm our understanding. We will let you know as we learn more, or if we hear differently,” Fraire said.
Campus carry was another topic of interest as many members voiced their concerns over the incoming law, which applies to community colleges this fall.
Members were concerned about high school students who are in dual credit classes being in classrooms with guns.
“To the extent that it’s your campus, the occasional interface with people who are under age doesn’t constitute a change in environment related to the law,” Floyd said. “Where it’s different is if you’re teaching a dual credit course on the high school campus.”
It’s complicated, Floyd said.
The one thing community colleges have going for them is that they had an extra year for a chance to smoke out some of the issues relating to guns on campus.
According to Floyd, the major issue at the four-year institutions is offices on campus.
“Some of the four-year schools said ‘suck it up, buttercup, you’re going to have people carrying in your office,’” Floyd said.
“Others said they would create a concept where if an office is assigned solely to you, then you’re in effect an owner of that space. There you have the individual right to say we’re not going to have guns in that space.”
Floyd expects the latter to meet a lot of criticism at the legislature level.
Diane Teter, associate professor of biology at South Texas College, said performance-based funding at her college has been a topic of discussion.
“We’ve been working on our success points initiative and collecting data toward it; we’re wondering what’s going to become of that data,” Teter said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 percent of the Texas formula funding is allocated based on points earned from a three-year average of student completion of the following metrics:
- Number of students who successfully complete developmental education in mathematics, reading, and writing.
- Number of students who complete first college-level course in mathematics, reading-intensive and writing-intensive courses.
- Number of students who successfully complete 15 credit hours.
- Number of students who successfully complete 30 credit hours.
- Number of students transferring to a general academic institution after successfully completing at least 15 semester credit hours.
- Number of degrees and certificates awarded.
Additional points are awarded for degrees in STEM or allied health fields.
“We don’t want it to become 20, 30 or 40 percent. We don’t want it to become the platform or foundation of some kind of accountability system for community colleges. We have SACSCOC for that,” he said.
“We want it to be what it’s supposed to be, an incentive for innovation.”
In a brief update on HB 417, Floyd said it’s likely to stay right where it is.
The bill is filed only in state Rep. James White’s (R-Texas) chamber. It doesn’t have a senate bill and it has not been discussed with the Higher Education Coordinating Board or the governor’s office.
“It’s one of 40 bills that the same member [White] has filed, many of which just eliminate things,” Floyd said. “From what we can tell, the bill doesn’t have any legs, and it’s likely a constituent issue.”
White is doing something that a representative should do by being responsive to a constituent, but also doing something he shouldn’t by filing a bill that gets a lot of people excited but really doesn’t have a chance.
Lobbyists, similar to Floyd, track everything that’s related to community colleges and the bill track is broad.
Floyd serves as a legislative liaison under TCCTA where he discusses legislative strategies and meets with legislative members on behalf of TCCTA.
“I’ll occasionally testify on behalf of TCCTA and give consultation about testimony for members or state officers,” he said.
“Basically, my job is to know my way around the Legislature and understand where the opportunities are to talk about policy and to make sure the right people get in those spaces to talk.”
TCCTA has an internal staff member who tracks legislation along with Floyd and with whom he compares notes from time to time.
“It’s a two-eyes-on kind of deal to make sure nothing slips by,” he said.
“We talk about priorities; you can tell sometimes what’s important if it’s filed by a committee chair or if it’s the subject of a lot of interim discussion before it gets filed,” he said.
Those tend to be the things that they need to stay with, he said.
If it’s a one-off, maybe it’s a big deal, maybe it isn’t. HB 417 is a great example of that, he said.
“I’m sure Mr. White has a good reason for filing the bill, but it doesn’t appear to be the product of any stakeholder conversation, it just appears to be emanating from his office, which means it will be harder to move,” he said.
Floyd’s biggest priority is adequate funding.
Last year’s bill pattern had community colleges funded for about $1.7 billion and this year, they’re contemplating a $200 million increase to $1.9 billion.
“The big difference between the house and the senate on the community college budget is not so much that we will be funded, but it’s a question of how we’re funded,” Floyd said.
Community colleges need at least $2 billion to be adequately funded, but everyone in the Legislature is fighting for resources, he said.
It’s an acceptable outcome in terms of an increase, Floyd said.
There are two issues: one is the amount of money community colleges receive and the other is how they receive it; in what pattern.
“We’re comfortable with concepts of how we receive it, but the important thing is we receive it,” Floyd said.
Funding goes specifically to maintenance and operations cost; the state funds these costs and the school districts use their taxing authority to fund buildings.
Schools found they were having to use local tax dollars to supplement the maintenance and operations cost so they wound up combining local tax collections with the state money to pay teachers and fund classes.
“It got to a low point of about 65/35 where the state was just putting in 35 percent, but the state has come back and made increases,” Floyd said. “It might be about 55/45 now, but I’m not 100 percent positive.”
The issue is if the state will keep up with its commitment to fund the maintenance and operating budget.