UH President Renu Khator defended the value of public universities in the current economic situation at the Texas Tribune Festival that took place Saturday and Sunday at the University of Texas.
The event, which was organized by The Texas Tribune and South By Southwest, included speakers such as the Ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon Jr. and former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. It also featured a number of debates and heated discussions concerning issues relevant to Texans.
Khator’s panel was asked whether public universities can “make the grade.”
Khator said she believed public universities should make a “really high grade” considering their increased enrollment and graduation rates amidst a difficult financial situation.
Khator and UT El Paso President Diana Natalicio disagreed on the value of graduation rates, which is often taken into consideration when considering the funding a school receives.
Natalicio said that members of the group should “eradicate” graduation rates, and instead measure degree completions – statistics that take into account transfer and part-time students.
Several state legislators took part in the “how to pay for public education” panel, such as Houston State Senator Dan Patrick, who is vice-chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Patrick engaged F. Scott McCown, a former judge who presided over all of Texas’ public school finance cases from 1990-2002, throughout the discussion, which covered topics ranging from low-income minorities to tax rates and policies.
“On one side you’ve got all these kids with high needs and folks who see they are our economic future, and on the other side you have an aging Anglo population that is unwilling to share in the economy,” McCown said in regards to the growing poor and Hispanic population.
Patrick believed that taxing businesses is not a good solution to the underfunded school districts.
“The last thing you want to do is to go in and tax business more than they’re already being taxed, which hurts job creation, which hurts home ownership. The value of a home pays for half of our education budget,” Patrick told McCown.
Patrick also suggested raising sales tax and lowering property taxes to keep people from moving to Florida for lower property taxes, which McCown believed would harm the poor, going on to add that Texas’ poorest 20 percent have the fifth-highest taxes in the country.
Other speakers at the festival spoke about issues that affect Texans as a whole, not just universities.
Senator John Cornyn R-TX, who was a featured keynote speaker, described administrative difficulties and how federal red-tape was slowing job growth in Texas.
“When there’s a plane crash we don’t declare a moratorium on air travel,” he said, referring to the BP oil spill that occurred in April of 2010.
He added that the moratorium moves oil rigs to less safe countries.
Cornyn, who is the 10th most oil-industry-lobbied Senator according to opensecrets.org, also compared carbon emissions of today to horse waste in 19th century New York, which he said “went away almost overnight when the internal combustion engine was created.”