During Texas' 80th legislative session, which is underway in Austin, UNT administrators will work to secure significant exceptional item funding, or funds in addition to the dollars the state provides in formula funding, for the 2008-09 biennium.
They also will seek approval of a bill to establish the UNT College of Law, which would become the first public law school in the city of Dallas. If the bill is approved and start-up funding is provided, the UNT System aims to open the law school in 2009.
Legislators are working with a projected surplus of more than $14 billion during this session. In addition to education funding issues, they are expected to place a priority on if and how they are going to offset the property tax cuts enacted last session, as well as how they are going to support prisons, Medicaid, foster care and other services.
The session is scheduled to end May 28, though Gov. Rick Perry has until June 17 to sign or veto legislation.
UNT's funding priorities include:
- restoration of the 10 percent reductions required of state agencies in preparing their 2008-09 budget requests,
- increases in Institutional Enhancement and Excellence Funding dollars that would put UNT's per student funding for these items on par with universities in its peer group as defined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,
- additional support for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, and
- first-time state support for the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, which has received more than $17 million in federal funding for its research projects.
In addition, UNT will seek nearly $8.5 million to fund debt service on the $50 million in tuition revenue bonds that were authorized during the legislature's special session.
Funding for debt service is essential before the university can sell the bonds and begin construction of a new 200,000 square foot Business Education Center, says Phil Diebel, vice president for finance and business affairs. The existing business building was constructed in 1960, and since then the number of faculty in the college has grown from 36 to more than 100, while the number of students has grown from 1,850 to nearly 6,000.
"All of the additional funding we are requesting is aimed at providing better service to our students, expanding any special initiatives we provide to our communities and improving our research," says President Gretchen M. Bataille. "Yet the funding we are requesting simply will bring UNT's level of state support in line with our peers,"
The UNT System is seeking:
- restoration of the 10 percent reductions required of state agencies when preparing their 2008-09 budget requests,
- start-up costs for the UNT College of Law, should legislators approve the system's authority to open a public law school in the City of Dallas;
- authorization to issue $30 million in tuition revenue bonds, and the $2.5 million in debt service funding to support them, for a renovation project that would allow the UNT College of Law to occupy the old Dallas City Hall and provide temporary space to initially open. The city of Dallas has pledged to donate the building and land as well as $20 million in renovation funding to support the project;
- additional support for the operation of the UNT Dallas Campus and $2 million in debt service for the $25 million in tuition revenue bonds that were authorized during the last session for a second classroom building on the UNT Dallas Campus; and
- increased operating funds that would bring the UNT System's state support in line with other university system offices.
"Although legislators are talking about improving funding for higher education, there also is plenty of discussion about how the state improves and monitors the direction and results of universities, and it's likely the two will come as a package deal," says Chancellor Lee Jackson. "We welcome that. As a student-centered university, UNT and the other UNT System institutions, already place a premium on providing an improving, quality education."
As part of its requests, both UNT and the UNT System are asking that legislators fund the formula rates for distributing money to higher education institutions at the levels recommended by the THECB, which recently revised the formulas, and improved the rates, in an effort to tie funding to actual costs, Diebel says.
"If legislators were to fully fund the formulas, they would better ensure that funding followed the students and was equitably provided to the institutions where the students are being taught," he says.