Friday, November 21st, 2014

Readers favored beer and college statements

Two of the statements we checked last week were made during debate on the floor of the Texas House over the 2012-13 state budget. Source: Austin American-Statesman
Two of the statements we checked last week were made during debate on the floor of the Texas House over the 2012-13 state budget. Source: Austin American-Statesman

Our checks of legislators’ statements about growth in college tuition and the craft beer industry finished neck and neck as reader favorites last week. We also dug into how many Texas college students arrive academically unprepared and whether an Austin elementary school is rooted in the Texas Constitution.

During debate over legislation that cuts about $1.5 billion in spending from the state’s current budget, state Rep. Sylvester Turner spoke in favor of an amendment that would have redirected $6.2 million from programs under the purview of Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which administers state-funded student financial aid programs.

On the House floor March 31, Turner, a Houston Democrat, said that after expected reductions in funding for higher education, "students in the state of Texas will need more financial aid than ever before because their tuition will go up. … Why are we more interested in protecting the governor’s agency than in providing financial aid to our students?"

Republican Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen, an opponent of the amendment, responded by defending the programs handled by the governor’s office and indicating that tuition hikes are not a done deal: "Some of the colleges, including A&M, have already guaranteed that they will not increase their tuition."

Guaranteed?

Aycock’s claim had an element of truth — last year, Texas A&M’s regents froze its main form of tuition for 2011-12. But we rated his statement Barely True after finding that A&M’s flagship university in College Station is proposing to raise tuition at three of its colleges: architecture, engineering and veterinary medicine. Also, fees may go up at other A&M institutions. Outside the A&M family, we found no evidence of tuition freezes — instead we found impending tuition hikes.

At a March press conference plugging legislation that would allow restaurants that brew their own beer to sell their bottled suds to a beer distributor, state Rep. Mike Villarreal suggested craft brewers are "the future" of the beer industry.

"The only segment in the beer market that is growing is the craft beer segment," the San Antonio Democrat said.

You can safely drink to that.

Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily, a trade publication focused on the commercial beer industry, told us that Villarreal’s claim is "definitely true." He likewise cited the Brewers Association, which he said tracks craft beer volumes, and the Washington-based Beer Institute, a lobbying group that tracks the entire industry. The Beer Institute pointed us to statistics showing that total estimated domestic beer production decreased 1.6 percent from 2009-10.

"Ironically, craft beer, which is the highest-priced segment in the beer industry, continued to grow and indeed accelerate," said Schuhmacher.

Urging House colleagues not to advance a proposed 2012-13 state budget scaling back spending in many areas, Democratic Rep. Donna Howard of Austin said lawmakers have falsely painted the state’s government as "bloated."

"I have a hard time believing that when when 50 percent of our students who enter higher education need to take remedial courses because they are not prepared for college-level work," Howard said.

We wondered whether half of the state’s 1.3 million students enrolled in higher ed really start off needing to catch up.

Not quite, we learned. Her statement was based on a state report on academic readiness that did not make clear it was limited to community college students. Among all students who enrolled in the state’s public higher education institutions — community colleges and four-year universities — immediately after high school in the fall of 2008, 31 percent weren’t ready in at least one academic area.

The rate is even lower solely for students who enrolled in four-year universities right out of high school. Only about 14 percent of those students aren’t college-ready in one or more academic area.

We rated Howard’s statement Barely True.

We issued a single False rating last week after Austin’s school district superintendent twice told a KUT-FM reporter that the district’s historic Pease Elementary has its roots in the Texas Constitution.

No version of the constitution posted online by the University of Texas show any individual school getting mention. Still, it’s clear that Superintendent Meria Carstarphen hopes to keep Pease operating. She blogged on the topic before we even completed our review.

See other statements we should be checking? Write us at politifact@statesman.com. We’d appreciate your attention too on Facebook or Twitter.