Director's Letter

Howdy, and welcome to the post-primary edition of our Advocacy Newsletter.  Besides hosting the earliest primaries in the nation, Texas is often viewed as political bellwether due to the size of its population, large congressional delegation, and location on an international border.  It did not disappoint: Millions of Texans voted on March 6 to determine their party’s candidates for the general election.  In a surprise turnout, Republican primary voters in Texas outnumber Democrats by a 3-to-2 margin.  A number of primary races also had candidates that did not reach a 50% threshold, and will therefore compete in runoff elections May 22.  I am also excited to announce that there were 38 Aggies who survived the primary process, and will continue their campaigns until November.

The debates surrounding higher education at the federal level have taken a backseat to more pressing issues like gun legislation and the OMNIBUS. The PROSPER Act left committee in the U.S. House – and faces the possibility of a floor vote – but the Senate Higher Education committee is moving at a much more deliberate pace.  It is entirely possible that the 115th Congress may not get around to a version of a bill that could pass in both chambers.

At the state level, the Joint Interim Committee on Higher Education Formula Funding held a series of hearings over the month of March.  The committee heard testimony from a series of experts including members of the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board (THECB), as well as Chancellor Sharp and President Young.  At issue are the complex mechanisms the state currently uses to fund higher education, and the necessity to balance state-mandated growth, student debt, and the quality of education.  Lawmakers asked several questions regarding the feasibility and impact of a hypothetical performance funding mechanism, and explored options to ensure that non-formula funding is being used for its intended purpose. 

Last but not least, The Association of Former Students is in the final planning stages of Aggies on the Hill.  This is a series of events designed to reconnect with Aggies who live and work in Washington D.C., as well as advocate for federal support to Texas A&M.  We look forward to all of the events – including office calls with the five former students who currently serve in the U.S. House of Representatives – as well as other members of the Texas Congressional delegation.  Aggie staffers and members of the National Capital and Maryland A&M Clubs will also play a role. I look forward to sharing the Aggie spirit in our nation’s capital with all of them!

Thanks and gig ’em,

Dave Fujimoto ’17
Director of Strategic Engagement

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What does the OMNIBUS have in store for higher-ed funding?

Federal Update

Recent Texas politics have been dominated by the pending U.S. Senate race between Rep. Beto O’Rourke and the incumbent Ted Cruz.  Both candidates have been traveling the state and aggressively fundraising.  Rep. Louie Gohmert ’75, Rep. Bill Flores ’76, and Rep. Will Hurd ’99 have all solidified spots in the November elections after winning their respective Republican primaries. Two new Democrats, Dan Woods ’78 and Greg Sagan (former West Texas A&M University student), have also made their way through primary season, and will compete in the fall for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Texas will most likely send its first two Latinas to the U.S. Congress, both of whom are Democrats. State Senator Sylvia Garcia and former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won their respective primaries, and are the front runners in the general elections in November. Their respective congressional districts overwhelmingly favor the Democratic Party, making their victories in the general election close to certain.
The chances that the Higher Education Act (HEA) will be re-authorized have diminished over the last few months.  While it is still the number one task on the higher education priority list, there is rising doubt within national-level advocacy programs that a compromise bill will be passed by the November elections.  In early 2018, the Senate held weekly committee hearings about the topic. While there is some agreement to curb rising college costs and student debt, Republicans and Democrats differ on the best way to address these issues.  Texas A&M University staff continue to monitor the legislative process and are prepared to review draft legislation as it is produced.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the PROSPER Act was placed on the Union Calendar after receiving a few amendments by the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Divisions remain among members regarding the possible elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The GOP intends to use the money saved by eliminating PSLF to increase the number of college students from low-income household.  The funding and eligibility for Pell Grants are also undergoing review. The PROSPER Act also reforms the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process, and the Federal Work-Study Program.

On March 23, President Donald Trump signed the OMNIBUS spending bill, a $1.3 trillion budgetary bill funding everything from healthcare to national defense.  Please click here for an Inside Higher Ed article which summarizes aspects of the bill.
Our thanks to the The Texas A&M Government Relations team (and members who funded programs) for the following higher-ed and research related items in the OMNIBUS:
  • $3 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health - an 8 percent increase to $37.1 billion.
  • $295 million increase for the National Science Foundation – a 4 percent increase to $7.8 billion.
  • $868 million increase for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science – a 16 percent increase to $6.26 billion.
  • $47 million increase for ARPA-E – a 15 percent increase to $353 million.
  • $457 million increase for NASA science programs – an 8 percent increase to $6.2 billion.
  • $25 million increase for USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – a nearly 7 percent increase to $400 million.
  • An increase in the maximum Pell Grant award by $175 to $6,095 for the 2018-19 school year.
  • $107 million increase for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants – a more than 14 percent increase for a total of $840 million.
  • $140 million increase for Federal Work Study – a 14 percent increase for a total of $1.13 billion.
  • $35 million increase for HBCUs, including a 14 percent increase to $72.3 million for historically black graduate institutions.

The dome of the Texas State capital is seen through trees on the final day of the 2017 special session. What issues are the higher-ed committees exploring?

State Update

Many Texans went to the polls on March 6 to vote in 215 different races.  Courtesy of The Texas Tribune, key highlights and analysis from this year’s primaries include:
  • More than 30 races will go to a May 22 runoff.  The rundown of what happened in the primaries is here.
  • One race many higher education watchers had their eye on was that of Kel Seliger, the Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, who avoided a runoff by less than 350 votes.
  • Since House Speaker Joe Straus announced his retirement, not only is his seat in the Legislature up for grabs (contenders Matt Beebe and Steve Allison will face each other in the May runoff), Straus’ position as Speaker, which is decided by the Members in January, is also open. Thus far, three candidates have emerged – Tan Parker, Phil King and John Zerwas.
In fulfilling the core value of selfless service, a total of 22 Aggie members (incumbents) and 11 new Aggie candidates ran and won in their respective primary elections. Interestingly enough, there are three races for seats in the Texas House of Representatives where both the Republican and Democratic candidates are former Texas A&M students: State House Districts 12, 14 and 56.  We wish all of the candidates the best of luck and will track the elections that include Aggies particularly closely.

While much of the state's attention was focused on elections, several Texas university chancellors and presidents had the opportunity to provide formal testimony to the Texas Legislature. All of them stressed the importance of the formula-funding methodology.  Both the Interim Joint Committee and the standing Senate Higher Education Committees held hearings in Austin.  The first committee explored the concept of, and ways to implement, "performance based" funding (largely based on graduation rates).  They also heard testimony of how various flagship universities - and their respective system schools - use non-formula funding.  Members had concerns about wether or not non-formula items were being used as intended, and both Ch. Sharp and Ch. McRaven offered proposals to possibly "off-ramp" and transition or sunset some expenses.  The second committee explored the role of the state in overseeing the approval and development of new higher education locations into geographical areas already served by existing institutions. The Texas A&M Advocacy Network will continue to report on the progress of these committees.
From the Eagle
"Vonn" greets Veterinarian Jimmy Barr at the Texas A&M; Veterinary School's Small Animal Hospital. 

Veterinary complex at West Texas A&M University

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved a plan in March to build a $22.8 million veterinary education, research and workforce facility on the West Texas A&M University campus.

While the Veterinary Education, Research & Outreach Center will be located on the campus in Canyon, it will be operated by the flagship Texas A&M University. The facility is expected to house administrative, faculty and support staff offices, computer services, research labs, classrooms and conference and meeting space. Click on the picture above to read more.
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