For decades, veterans who served at least 180 days are entitled to free college tuition at a Texas public school under the Hazlewood program. In 2009, the program was expanded to allow veterans to pass their unused benefits on to a dependent.
Since then, costs have spiraled out of control. Last year, universities spent $169 million covering Hazlewood tuition. That amount could increase to $379 million by 2019, according to the Legislative Budget Board.
Heading into the 2015 legislative session, universities said they couldn't handle that growth, and that lawmakers either needed to fund the veterans’ tuition itself, or place limits on who can enroll.
But in the final days of the session, lawmakers seeking to reform Hazlewood reached an impasse. Democrats and veterans groups celebrated the bill’s demise as a victory; they feared it would break a promise the state had made to its military members.
Updated: May 31, 2015
For a long time, the Texas Legislature was in the habit of authorizing a round of tuition revenue bonds, the mechanism through which the state funds campus construction projects at public universities, every other session. But the last time it did so was in 2006. In 2013, despite broad, bipartisan support, a plan to provide more than $2.7 billion to support about 60 campus construction projects around the state failed to gain final approval before the clock ran out on the legislative session — and many universities had to delay projects.
Those long-awaited construction projects on university campuses should be back on track after the Legislature's approval of roughly $3 billion in bonds to pay for new buildings.
That action was good news for universities, which made the bonds one of their top legislative priorities for 2015.
New buildings funded in the legislation include a biocontainment research facility at Texas A&M University, a biomedical sciences center at the University of Houston and renovations to Robert Welch Hall Hall at the University of Texas at Austin and to law school buildings at the University of North Texas. In all, more than 60 universities will have construction projects financed.
Updated: May 31, 2015
Lawmakers upset with the climbing cost of college began 2015 with high hopes for new limits on tuition increases.
And several of them – Democrats and Republicans alike – filed bills seeking to slow or block tuition growth, noting that the statewide average for tuition has more than doubled since the Legislature stopped regulating it in 2003.
But almost all of those bills stalled early in the legislative session. And by the final days of the legislative session, hope had faded; all the bills seeking to regulate state schools’ tuition had died.
Some of the top advocates for tuition regulation are already turning their sights to the 2017 session.
Schools will likely continue to fight back; they have argued that lawmakers were smart to give up the right to limit tuition, in part because state funding was covering a smaller and smaller share of universities’ budgets.
Updated: May 27, 2015
When Texas adopted a law in 2001 allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates to attend public universities, it was the first state to do so. Despite pushback from within his own party — at home and on the presidential campaign trail — former Gov. Rick Perry has stood by the decision, and the policy has remained in effect.
But following Perry’s departure from the Governor's Mansion, the future of the Texas DREAM Act has been uncertain. Heading into the 2015 legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to repeal it, and Gov. Greg Abbott indicated he would not veto a bill that did just that.
Still, the measure got little traction in the Legislature. House leadership had no appetite for it, and though a Senate bill to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students made it out of committee, the more conservative upper chamber couldn't muster the votes to bring it up for a vote. By the final days of the session, the measure was effectively dead — at least until 2017.
Opponents of the DREAM Act argue that the law is, among other things, unfair to legal U.S. citizens from other states who must pay higher out-of-state tuition rates at Texas public universities. But supporters say it helps young people who ended up in Texas through no fault of their own become more productive participants in the workforce.
Updated: June 1, 2015
The Texas Legislative Guide was designed and developed by Becca Aaronson, Emily Albracht, Daniel Craigmile, Annie Daniel, Ben Hasson and Ryan Murphy for The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.