The Speaker's office has released the list of interim charges to the House Committee on Higher Education. These are items that the panel will consider prior to the 2011 Regular Session. The committee will undoubtedly conduct hearings with invited testimony covering these policy areas in the months ahead.
A number of the charges are unsurprising, but at least one will likely raise eyebrows.
The panel is charged to "Study the feasibility of offering an optional curriculum that emphasizes ethics, Western civilization, and American traditions to satisfy portions of the Texas Core Curriculum." As history teachers are likely aware, the State Board of Education is currently embroiled in controversy over the selection of history textbooks for the public schools. Many social conservatives on the board believe that Christianity and patriotism are not emphasized enough in the social studies curriculum.
It seems likely, given the wording of the charge, that discussion over the higher education curricula will also provide a forum for these sentiments. The Core Curriculum (and state law) now require six hours each of American history and government.
Below is the list of charges:
1. Evaluate the state's continuing effort to close achievement gaps in success, participation, excellence, and research by 2015. Study how state public education institutions compare to peer institutions around the country.
2. Study current financial aid programs, tuition and fee exemption programs, loan repayment programs, and professional incentive programs. Evaluate the impact of need-based versus merit-based assistance. Recommend changes where appropriate to improve the alignment of these programs to meet state needs.
3. Review the structure and operation of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Evaluate the board's data collection systems, including costs to higher education institutions, and make recommendations for improvements.
4. Study and recommend strategies for improving community college participation and success. Examine the role of community colleges within the state higher education system. Include a review of programs, practices, and incentives to improve efficiency and productivity, such as expanding dual credit options, encouraging credit by examination, and improving student preparation in high school.
5. Study and recommend strategies for reducing the costs of instructional materials in higher education institutions, including electronic textbooks, open source materials, and other web-based resources.
6. Examine the state's higher education funding mechanisms, including approaches to funding capital improvement projects at public institutions of higher education. Evaluate modifications that would improve the institutions' national peer rankings and help the state to achieve its Closing the Gaps objectives, including improved community college transfer pathways and the impact of shifting the basis of the formula funding methodologies from attempted to completed hours. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Appropriations
7. Monitor the progress of the capital improvement plan and use of state funds at The University of Texas at Galveston involving the renovation and upgrade of existing facilities and the construction of new facilities. Joint Interim Charge with House Committee on Appropriations
8. Study the feasibility of offering an optional curriculum that emphasizes ethics, Western civilization, and American traditions to satisfy portions of the Texas Core Curriculum.
9. Monitor the agencies and programs under the committee's jurisdiction.