This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune
Seeking to make college more affordable, the University of Texas will use some of its oil money to dramatically expand the financial aid it offers to low- and middle-income undergraduates on its flagship Austin campus.
The system’s governing board approved a special $160 million distribution from its endowment Tuesday, which school officials expect will fully cover the tuition and fees of students whose families earn up to $65,000 in adjusted gross income a year starting in 2020. The funding, which will be used to create a new financial aid endowment, will also let UT-Austin alleviate tuition costs for students whose families earn up to $125,000 annually, if they demonstrate financial need.
“Our main focus at the UT system is our students. That’s it, that’s what we’re in business for is to provide an affordable, accessible education for our students,” board Chair Kevin Eltife said in an interview after the vote. “We all know the struggles that hardworking families are having putting their kids through school. What we’ve done here is repurposed an endowment into another endowment that will provide tuition assistance to a lot of the working families in Texas.”
The funding marks a significant expansion for UT-Austin, which currently has a financial aid initiative that guarantees free tuition to students whose families earn up to $30,000 a year. The median household income in Texas was just over $59,200 in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
School officials estimate about a quarter of its undergraduates from Texas — 8,600 students — would have their tuition fully paid under the new plan, and an additional 5,700 would receive financial aid from it. The program will not pay for students’ living expenses, which were estimated to be around $17,000 for the 2019-20 academic year. Tuition and fees averaged $10,314 for Texas residents.
UT-Austin President Greg Fenves said he was grateful to the board for “prioritizing students and investing in the future of our great state.”
“Chairman Eltife understands that college affordability is one of the most critical issues affecting all Texans,” Fenves said in a written statement. “Thanks to his leadership and the board’s action, this new endowment will go a long way toward making our university affordable for talented Texas students from every background and region.”
Eltife said, “This is something that I think is a great step in the right direction, and we’ll keep moving in this direction.”
The money will supplement federal and state financial aid programs.
The UT System has one of the richest educational endowments in the country, second in size only to Harvard University last year, according to Bloomberg data. (The system has far more students across its 14 institutions than those who attend Harvard.)
But a Texas Tribune investigation from 2017 found that just a fraction of the endowment distribution was being used for financial aid at UT-Austin — about $3 million for undergraduates — and that money dedicated to system administration and initiatives, like an in-house educational technology startup, had increased. The chancellor and many of the regents have changed since then, and Eltife has been critical of past spending priorities.
System officials have said in the past that their projects saved money by centralizing functions and benefited students at UT’s other institutions. The state constitution allows only UT-Austin to receive operational funding from the endowment; other campuses can get bonds backed by the oil fund for construction, and the system can use it for capital projects and administration.
The Texas endowment dates to 1876, when the state set aside more than 1 million acres of West Texas land to support the development of the UT and Texas A&M University systems. The value of the fund shot up with the discovery of oil and the advancement of hydraulic fracturing. In May 2019, its value was $22.3 billion, according to the UT System.
Typically, royalties earned off the land are invested in stocks, bonds and other assets by the nonprofit University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Company, known as UTIMCO. Annual distributions from the fund cannot surpass 7% of the market value of its investments. Two-thirds of the payout is earmarked for UT, and the remainder is for A&M.
The board approved a more than $1 billion distribution in May, and Tuesday sent an additional $83.3 million to A&M. With the supplementary funding, the annual payout now totals about 6.86% of the fund’s investments.
A&M has for years had a financial aid program that covers tuition costs for students whose families have an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. Last year, 6,726 students benefited from it, according to a statement from the system, and its board set aside $30 million in 2018 to offer one-time grants to students coming from families that earn between $40,000 and $100,000 a year.
Laylan Copelin, a spokesperson for the Texas A&M University System, said of the funding distributed Tuesday, “We will discuss with our regents how best to spend this money for the benefit of our students.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas System and Texas A&M University have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Unite The Fight 2019
The Equality Alliance returns with its third annual Unite The Fight “black tie” gala event on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the Hilton Austin, complete with hostess Shangela, the red carpet, a huge silent auction, and the highly-anticipated main event as eight amateur drag contestants lip sync for their rights and the coveted title of Miss Unite the Fight. “Every year, The Equality Alliance hosts our Unite the Fight Gala to raise money for non-profit organizations who are on the front lines every day fighting for equality and basic human rights for the LGBTQ community,” explained Monica Painter, Executive Director of The Equality Alliance.
“At the gala, the charities briefly speak about what they do in our community and ways people can plug in and help,” Painter added. This year’s beneficiaries are:
- Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce Foundation
- KIND Clinic
- Out Youth
- Transgender Education Network of Texas
“To add some fun to the mix, eight people [who have never considered doing drag in their life] are paired with a professional drag queen,” explained Painter. “The amateur queens practice drag for months and then they perform on the night of the gala in front of 1,000 people to compete for the crown of Miss Unite The Fight. We always say: ‘People come all dressed up in their fanciest clothes to support charity and leave with laryngitis from screaming for their favorite contestant.’ We have found this combination to be a perfect mix of philanthropy and fun!”
This year’s contestants walking the catwalk and the chance at the title of Miss Unite The Fight, (along with their mentors) are:
- Veronica Castelo + Jack Rabid
- Bobby Cook + Sabel Scities
- Christopher Davis + Vylette Ward
- Kelvin Glover + Scarlett Kiss
- Cody Kinsfather + Colleen Deforrest
- Sandy McIlree + Vegas Van Cartier
- Matt Moffit + Alysha Pretty
- Emmanuel Winston + Maeve Haven
The title of Miss Unite The Fight isn’t the only award up for grabs. Thanks to red carpet sponsor, Chappy, judges will be on the red carpet with awards handed out throughout the night for attendees presenting head-turning looks upon arrival. Categories include:
- “The Beyonce” for sparkliest
- “The Grace Kelly” for classic beauty
- “The Gender Bender” for binary realness
- “The Cher” for most over the top
- “The OMGaga” for the Grand Prize
“Not only are LGBTQ+ events important as it raises awareness towards critical issues within our marginalized community, but Unite the Fight is near and dear to our hearts as it is an Austin-based event, which is now our hometown,” said Chappy Co-Founder and Head of Brand Sam Dumas. “We are so excited to participate in this event as a red carpet sponsor and we are honored to work side-by-side with an organization that aligns so closely to our core principals of equality, empowerment, commitment to safe spaces, and values that align across all sexualities and genders.”
In addition to the silent auction with over 100 items up for mobile bidding, this year features a raffle for a 3-year lease on a 2019 Mercedes C-300 Cabriolet (or a $20,000 credit towards the purchase of a new car) from Mercedes-Benz of Austin. The raffle is limited to only 500 tickets.
The official after party for the Unite The Fight gala will be hosted by Oilcan Harry’s on 4th Street, in the Warehouse District.
More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins
Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.
Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.
In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.
“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.
Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.
The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.
On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.
On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.
Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.
Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:
- Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
- Foaming at the mouth
- Jaundice, hepatomegaly
- Blood in urine or dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Photosensitization in recovering animals
- Abdominal tenderness
- Progression of muscle twitches
- Respiratory paralysis
The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.
In people, possible health effects include:
- Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
- Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
- Respiratory signs or symptoms
- Neurologic signs or symptoms
- Ear symptoms
- Eye irritation
Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.
If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.
Source: City of Austin website
Austin Police Launch Safe Place Initiative
APD Safe Place will help those who are victims of a hate crime identify and find a safe place to take shelter and contact 9-1-1.
The Austin Police Department announced the launch for its SAFE PLACE Initiative today during a press conference at Halcyon Wednesday afternoon led by Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk, Austin City Council Member for District 6 Jimmy Flannigan and Lesbian & Gay Peace Officers Association – LGPOA President Sgt. Mike Crumrine.
The new partnership between the police department and local businesses, which is free and voluntary, will help those who are victims of a hate crime identify and find a safe place to take shelter and contact 9-1-1.
Safe Place was started by the Seattle Police Department in 2014 to address low reporting of anti-LGBTQ crimes and school bullying incidents by increasing public trust in law enforcement and feelings of safety in the community. The program has since been initiated by over 200 police agencies across the United States and Canada and was expanded in 2018 to include anyone who may have been a victim of a bias crime.
The Safe Place symbol is trademarked and depicts a police shield surrounding the colors that traditionally have symbolized the LGBTQ+ community since the 1970s. The Safe Place decal is meant to convey inclusion and intersectionality with any and all individuals, regardless of their race, political beliefs, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation and/or identification, or any other differences either actual or perceived.
Businesses who want to participate in the APD Safe Place initiative should contact the program coordinator Christian Mendoza by email or phone at 512-974-4734.
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