October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

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Texas lawmakers could give billions to universities for research

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
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The Story

The Texas House approved two measures this week that would create the Texas University Fund and allocate billions for higher education research to certain universities, including Texas State University.

On Tuesday, the House gave its final approval in a 136-11 vote to House Bill 1595 to change the name of the National Research University Fund, which currently provides funding to “emerging research universities,” to the Texas University Fund. A day earlier, in a 132-10 vote, the House approved House Joint Resolution 3, which proposes a constitutional amendment to enact the bill and allocate $3.5 billion to the fund.

Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, filed both proposals in the House.

“This is a transformative piece of legislation that will allow Texas for generations to come to be the intellectual capital of the world,” Bonnen said Monday on the House floor. “It changes the eligibility requirements for access to this fund, and it does so in a merit-based approach and in an approach that, as other universities grow and enhance their research performance, they will be able to access this fund and not dilute the ones that are currently in the fund.”

The House approval comes after the Texas Senate last week in a 30-1 vote backed two similar proposals — Senate Bill 19 and Senate Joint Resolution 5 — although the Senate’s proposal only allocates $2.5 billion to research in the constitutional amendment. Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, filed both proposals in the Senate.

“To meet the challenges of a rapidly growing population, Texas will require an educated workforce and research-driven solutions,” Huffman said. To “continue addressing these issues, the committee substitute to SB 19 reforms the way Texas funds research at our institutions of higher education.

The two bills are part of the Legislature’s effort to support higher education research and expand funding to Texas State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas and other higher education institutions. The Senate bill is one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities this legislative session.

“As Texas’ economy and population continue to grow rapidly, so do our workforce needs. Cutting-edge research and innovation are occurring at Texas universities, adding fuel to our economic engine” Patrick said in a statement after the Senate legislation passed. “The new Texas University Fund will provide funding for our non-Permanent University Fund universities so we can continue powering the Texas and American economy forward for decades to come.”

Under the Texas Constitution, the UT and Texas A&M systems are the only ones with access to the Permanent University Fund, a multibillion-dollar endowment funded by oil and gas revenue from 2.1 million acres in West Texas. Some state lawmakers and university officials, however, have long questioned why the UT and Texas A&M systems are the sole beneficiaries of the fund, arguing that it puts other schools at a disadvantage.

Under the proposals, universities will qualify for research funding if they, over three years, spend an average of at least $20 million in federal and private research funds per fiscal year and award an average of at least 45 research doctoral degrees per academic year. The current institutions that qualify are Texas State, Texas Tech, UH and UNT, although other schools could qualify for funding if they meet the criteria.

Keller, the Texas higher education commissioner, said the Senate’s proposal would probably provide about $240 million total to Texas State, Texas Tech, UH and UNT over two years. If either joint resolution receives approval from both chambers, Texans would vote on the constitutional amendments to approve the fund on Nov. 7.

 

Full story: Austin, TX News – Austin American-Statesman

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