Representatives discuss concerns for rural Texas ahead of 88th legislative session

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – Lawmakers from West Texas gathered at Texas Tech for the Texas Tribune Future of Rural Texas event to discuss their priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Topics included education, healthcare, drought and Private University Funds (PUF).

The panel included Lubbock representative Dustin Burrows (R), Midland representative Brooks Landgraf (R) and Eagle Pass representative Eddie Morales (D).

There was broad agreement that a Republican majority in Austin is good for rural Texas since Democrats represent mostly urban areas. Morales mentioned that Democrats need to think more about what rural communities need.

“That should be a message to Democrats first and foremost, because we can’t keep trying to win national races and run like Democrats,” Morales said. “We must be very conscious of the rural needs of our constituents in rural Texas.”

One of the most discussed topics was school vouchers, which are used to pay government grants to send children to private schools at the parents’ request. Rep. Morales supports these coupons. Rep. Burrows says lawmakers must first discuss STAAR testing and school safety. Landgraf believes that there must be an offer for children with special needs.

On the subject of higher education, all three agree that it’s time for lawmakers to adjust the PUF and include Texas Tech.

“It has to be recognized that the money that goes into this fund comes from a part of the state that doesn’t reinvest that money back into that part of the state — specifically, higher education,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said a four-year university in his district, UT Permian Basin, is a branch of the University of Texas but receives only a small amount from the PUF fund. Morales and Landgraf both said they are willing to give a portion of the PUF fund to Texas Tech and other universities.

Landgraf says changing where the PUF fund goes would require a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval.

When it comes to rural healthcare, Burrows says COVID-19 has taught us a lot about alternative ways for patients to receive care.

“The local dispensaries that are out here in rural Texas that have been allowed to test and treat because of COVID waivers,” Burrows said. “So you have to understand that most of my rural communities don’t have a doctor or nurse, but they do have a pharmacy.”

According to Burrows, rural Americans who don’t have to go to a larger community to get tested can improve their quality of life. He also mentioned telemedicine as a good tool that Texas Tech has been using for years – which can set an example for the rest of the state.

The 88th legislative period begins on January 10th.