Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s restructuring of committees reduces the prominence of higher education in the Texas Senate.
On Tuesday, Patrick announced he’s relegating higher education to a subcommittee within the education committee to better “align” policies from K-12 through college and workforce development during next year’s legislative session. Previously, higher education was its own nine-member committee.
Patrick noted in a statement that the change was made to streamline education policy.
“Now more than ever, we must examine education needs as a continuum, from the earliest grades through post-secondary education,” Patrick said in a statement.
The move comes just weeks after Patrick said he wants to end tenure for new professors at Texas’ universities and colleges, a strategy meant to keep critical race theory out of higher education. Patrick, a Republican, is running for reelection.
Critical race theory is an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism — such as in education. It was the subject of heated debate last year as lawmakers passed bills aimed at keeping it out of public schools, even though they insisted critical race theory is not part of K-12 curricula.
The lawmaker also wants to push bills during the 2023 legislative session that would make it more difficult for faculty to maintain tenure.
The University of Texas at Austin faculty, education groups and advocates have pushed back, concerned that these are attempts to suppress academic freedom.
UT president Jay Hartzell defended tenure in a February message to faculty, saying it is a critical tool for universities to attract, motivate and retain the state’s top talent.
“We all aspire to improve the educational system in the United States, but tenure is important to Texas universities, and removing it will not help,” he wrote.
In announcing the restructuring of committees, Patrick noted that the “vast majority of jobs” in the state require students to have more than a high school degree, so Texas needs a “seamless path throughout the educational experience.”
Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will serve as chairman of the education committee with Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, as vice chairwoman.
Outgoing education chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, is retiring.
Previous committee vice chairman Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, also announced his retirement late last year. He served three decades in the Texas Legislature and was known for supporting public education.
Final committee assignments will be made at the beginning of the next legislative session. Creighton will lead both committees in the meantime, and they will continue to meet separately.
Because of the number of recent retirements, Patrick also added Sen. Brian Birdwell to the education committee. Birdwell already serves on the higher education committee.
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