Someday in the future, it’s possible that the doctor you might want to repair your heart or deliver your baby or just simply tell you to live a healthier lifestyle may not be there, because the young man or woman who was eager to become a doctor never got that opportunity. Because of state budget cuts offered by the Texas Senate, at least one state medical school already has closed its doors to about fifty potential members of the class of 2021. Such is the impact that proposed budget reductions could have on Texas’s colleges and universities.
“We are committed to work closely with the state legislature, and while we will not know the final outcome before the end of the regular session on Mary 29, 2017, we must prepared today, based on the current budget proposals,” wrote Carrie L. Byington, vice chancellor for health services at Texas A&M University in a letter to the students. “In years past, your position on the alternate list for the Texas A&M College of Medicine would be associated with a high likelihood of joining the 2021 class. Unfortunately, because of the proposed budget cuts, we are forced to suspend offers of class placements to those on our alternative list at this time.”
For most people, the state budget probably feels like a distant and arcane affair with little direct impact on their lives. With almost a third of the budget going to services for the poor, the middle class may feel even less invested in how the Legislature spends state tax dollars. But as we pointed out earlier this year, if you have high property taxes, it is probably because of how state lawmakers handle public education funding.
State spending on high education also can impact the lives of people in the middle class. Budget proposals would make substantial cuts in higher education spending—cuts that might determine how many freshmen get into the University of Texas or Texas A&M next year, and potentially whether their tuition goes up. The budgets also might mean cuts to the kind of research that draws world-renowned academics to Texas campuses and paves the way for cancer cures and more efficient car batteries, among much more.
Depending on how you count it, the state is somewhere between $4 billion and $8 billion short of paying for state services overall with state tax and fee revenue. The lower number is how short the state is to matching the existing budget, and the higher number is what it would cost to cover the existing budget plus growth in population and inflation.
To balance its version of the budget, the Texas Senate is cutting current spending on higher education by about $219 million, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. High education has traditionally had line items that spent specific money to certain programs. The Senate this year eliminated those line items and rolled everything into the general funding for the state universities. In its rob Peter to rob Paul budget, the Senate’s elimination of the line items would cut $570 million from state spending. But the Senate tried to make up for it by putting $300 million into the general funding formula for all universities. Of course, it doesn’t take a math whiz to see that $300 million doesn’t equal $570 million. Overall, this shell game will result in cuts of between 6 and 10 percent to individual universities. However, there is a disproportionate impact that hits campuses with fast-growing student populations the hardest. A few numbers on the funding that is lost under the Senate budget because of the change in accounting:
Texas A&M University, $75.6 million
Texas A&M University at Galveston, $3 million
University of Texas at Arlington, $15 million
University of Texas at Dallas, $8.5 million
University of Texas at San Antonio, $4.3 million
University of North Texas at Denton, $6.5 million
University of Houston Downtown, $3 million
Tarelton State University, $3.4 million
Texas State University at San Marcos, $13.2 million
Sam Houston State University at Huntsville, $3.7 million
Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College, $1.3 million
All told, general academic institutions will receive $141 million less under the Senate’s funding formula than they would under the currently existing budget. For instance, Texas A&M will lose $29 million in funding. Prairie View A&M University will face a 10-percent cut, or $5.5 million. U.T. Austin is another campus facing a 10-percent cut, for a loss of $48 million.
“We understand that the state is in a tight place but I would stress that we have done our very best to use state resources efficiently and effectively on behalf of the young people of the state while keeping tuition among the lowest, and the administrative overhead by far the lowest (3.6 percent) of any university in the state and maybe the nation,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young in a statement. “Further cuts to our budget will reduce the number of students that we can serve as well as the number of world-class researchers we attract who are making significant contributions to the diversification and dynamism of the state’s economy.”
One local university recently told the San Antonio Express-News that even small cuts can be devastating. “We may never recover from this,” said Bill Spindle, chief financial officer for Texas A&M University-San Antonio, if the budget cuts stand. “The long-term effect of this for us is we’ll have to reduce the size of the university, and it won’t be able to serve all the students we hope to serve.” Overall, UTSA would receive $146.25 million in state funding, compared with the current $155.59 million. “At this time, I don’t really know” what the university would do if the Senate spending plan for higher education remains, said Kathryn Funk-Baxter, UTSA’s vice president for business affairs. “We have put together some contingency plans, and we would really have to study that situation.”
The Texas Exes put out a warning to alumni: “Additionally, the Senate proposal leaves the new Dell Medical School entirely unsupported, with zero funding in the proposed state budget. No other public medical school is treated this way … All the above amounts to a continued systematic divestment in public higher education. University like our flagship are struggling to educate the future workforce of Texas—future teachers, doctors, architects, engineers, programmers, and more.”
The House spent hours debating its budget on Thursday. There are higher education cuts in the House budget too, but they are much more modest than those in the Senate—the total cut in general tax revenue funding of $33.2 million.