Top 10% Debate in Bottom Percentile

SB175 session in the Senate an unfortunate model for how legislation gets passed

Sen. West: Seems to believe that passing a bad law and fixing it later is not the same as not passing a bad law at all
Sen. West: Seems to believe that passing a bad law and fixing it later is not the same as not passing a bad law at all

While the big debate on the Top 10% university admissions rule took place on Tuesday, the final vote out of the Senate took place Wednesday. The plan to cap admissions to 60% of any incoming class actually shored up its majority over night, rising from 23-8 to 24-7 (Sen. Mike Jackson, R-League City, flipped over night.)

As one seasoned lege watcher noted, Top 10% is a major issue that deserves a serious debate. But as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst kept reminding the floor on Tuesday, "This is not the time for debate." It was instead all a Q&A, which basically means senators asking questions to which they already knew the answers, and floating floor amendments.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, stalked the floor during proceedings, visibly frustrated that a massive and systemic change was being crowbarred through with little meaningful or thoughtful discussion. West proposed a four-year Sunset amendment to the bill (instead, a quasi-compromise of eight was approved) because "I want to remind you of your votes on tuition deregulation," he thundered. "I want to remind you over and over and over again about your vote on tuition deregulation. How many of you wish you hadn't voted that way?"

Bill author Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, agreed with West that tuition deregulation was another issue crying for review (with multiple bills pending, she said, "The issue has come back before us in spades.") However, she rejected his call for caution. The fact that the Senate was prepared to work to correct bad legislation, she argued, was a sign that the system really worked, and added, "When we see we've made a mistake, we correct that mistake."

When Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, tried to cap the percentage of foreign students in an incoming freshman class at 2009 levels, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, stepped up. Had Patrick (who is, after all, the vice-chair of Public Education) conferred with UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa about this proposal? No, he had not. How about UT President Bill Powers? No. Anyone at UT? No. "We're kind of running on the fly here," Estes said, adding that he was nervous that major changes were being tacked on with no evidence to back up claims of their efficacy or necessity.

The arguments for reform have been pretty nebulous, and these days seem to revolve around the idea that the other 90% of the state is ill-served, or that the rules tie universities' hands on admissions. Powers has been reduced to claiming that it might endanger UT football (Oh noes, Bill, don't endanger that precious 40% football graduation rate.) Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, summed up the mood for several on the floor about the Shapiro revisions. Since admissions to UT under the Top 10% law have tripled in his district since the current law came in 1998, he said, "I can't go with your [proposals] and take a chance."

Now the bill heads over the House, but as Shapiro noted, almost exactly the same bill went to the House in 2007, and it got voted down after conference committee. When West was asked on the floor about the chances of history repeating itself, he shrugged and replied, "Who knows?"

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Education
Patrick's Advisers Call Pre-K
Pre-K "Godless"
Another sign of discord between Lite Guv and Abbott?

Richard Whittaker, April 22, 2015

SXSWedu: Steady as She Goes
SXSWedu: Steady as She Goes
Women's rights advocates push for educational equity

Jessi Cape, March 16, 2015

More Texas Senate
Houston Voters Say No to
Houston Voters Say No to "Robin Hood"
HISD rejects making school finance payments

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 15, 2016

Anti-Bullying Bill Filed for Texas Legislature
Anti-Bullying Bill Filed for Texas Legislature
San Antonio lawmakers open pre-filing season with David's Law today

Richard Whittaker, Nov. 14, 2016

More by Richard Whittaker
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
Kathy Bates, Marc Maron, and More Confirmed for Texas Film Hall of Fame Ceremony
We know the winners, now who'll be running the show?

Feb. 14, 2019

How Robert Rodriguez Saved <i>Alita: Battle Angel</i> From the Scrap Heap
How Robert Rodriguez Saved Alita: Battle Angel From the Scrap Heap
After a decade and a half, the legendary manga's battle dreams are made real

Feb. 15, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Education, Texas Senate, 81st Legislature, Top 10%, Royce West, Craig Estes, Dan Patrick, Florence Shapiro

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle