Advocacy Update June 16, 2016

congress flags
This past week, the Austin Chamber raised its collective voice on several key issues: transportation, affordability and innovation. We provided testimony at hearings, spoke at committee meetings, participated in press conferences, drove direct action alerts to ensure decision makers heard our collective voice and met with decision makers in Washington, D.C. to drive our legislative agenda. Below is an update on these issues.

Joint Statement in Support of Mayor Adler’s $720M Mobility Bond Proposal

The Austin Chamber of Commerce, Real Estate Council of Austin, Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, Austin Technology Council and Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce applaud Mayor Steve Adler for his bold vision and leadership to address both transportation and affordability in his proposed mobility bond referendum. Improving Austin’s corridors will help enable the realization of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and the CodeNEXT process through increased density, better connections throughout the city and enhanced mobility, in addition to the other major arterial road improvements recommended that provide real congestion relief. Our organizations directionally support the proposed bond pending the outcome of the June 23 City Council meeting. Provided that bond proceeds will be used for projects that will make a meaningful impact on alleviating congestion, we support a bond package for the full $720 million of funding. We look forward to continuing to provide our input and industry expertise throughout the process.

Joint Statement on Opposing Casar and Kitchen bond proposals from Austin Chamber, Real Estate Council of Austin, and Asian Chamber

On Thursday, June 15, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Real Estate Council of Austin and the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce reiterated its support for Mayor Steve Adler’s bold vision and leadership to address both transportation and affordability in his proposed mobility bond referendum. Mayor Adler was elected by all Austinites and his proposal for the $720 million mobility bond is balanced on the right transportation improvements for all of Austin.

The organizations’ opposition to Council Member Greg Casar’s proposal is that it is focused on the core of Austin and ignores 80 percent of Austin’s population and over 75 percent of the voters who do not live in the core of Austin.  The proposal also says it focuses on the future.  For a significant majority of Austinites, the future is NOW.  Poll after poll of citizens indicate that Austinites by a 2:1 margin want real traffic congestion relief and road improvements now. We believe the Mayor’s proposal better understands and better addresses the pain of traffic congestion suffered by Austinites in all parts of the city.

The opposition to Council Member Ann Kitchen’s plan is that it is not bold enough and does not contain enough funding to do what Austin needs now. We commend Kitchen’s comments that her plan only represents a starting point, however, we believe that starting point to be timid at best.


CTRMA votes unanimously to move forward on SH 45 SW

The Chamber provided live testimony during the Central Texas Regional Mobility (CTRMA) board meeting this week. The comments centered on keeping the SH 45SW project moving forward. In addition, a significant number of Chamber members used the Chamber Action Alert to send a letter to encourage decision makers to move forward on the project. On June 15, we are pleased to report that the CTRMA board voted unanimously to move forward with procurement of construction services for the project.

This important vote came at a time when anti-growth activists and some local elected officials had strongly advocated against the project. A lawsuit has also been filed.

Despite that pressure, the Mobility Authority kept the project moving. SH 45SW is badly needed. It will bring better mobility to our community and to those who live just outside our community – including people who teach our children and contribute to our thriving hospitality industry, but who cannot afford to live in the city limits.

Coalition Calls for City to Complete Land Development Code

The Chamber spoke at a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday, June 15. We joined several organizations to encourage city leaders to move forward on addressing affordability through CodeNEXT. Below is the joint press release.

(June 15) – Exactly four years after the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan was unanimously adopted by Austin City Council, a broad coalition of eight local organizations is calling for the City to hold firm on its planned release of a draft land development code in January 2017. At a press conference at City Hall Wednesday morning, the coalition also made recommendations that would help produce the smart, comprehensive code that’s needed to house Austin’s rapidly growing population.

The coalition includes AURA, Austin Apartment Association, Austin Board of Realtors, Austin Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Austin Alliance, Evolve Austin, Home Builders Association of Austin and Real Estate Council of Austin. “It’s been four years since the roadmap for CodeNEXT was laid out in Imagine Austin, and we’re still without a draft of the code,” said RECA President Ward Tisdale. “Today, the project is two years behind schedule, hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget and in jeopardy of collapsing under its own weight.”

“Now is not the time to re-litigate Imagine Austin. It is time to allow staff to do their job and start moving the needle on household affordability and traffic congestion by approving a robust CodeNEXT that is true to Imagine Austin values and metrics,” said Cid Galindo, President of Evolve Austin Partners.

In addition to expecting a January 2017 release date of the draft code the coalition has made the following recommendations:

  • The code should include programs that incentivize the construction of below-market housing. Those programs need to be clear, effective, easily implemented and uniform throughout the city.
  • The code should provide options for missing middle and other more affordable housing options throughout the city, with limited or no specific regulations as to quantity, density, or lot and unit sizes.
  • The code should revise current concepts of compatibility to support denser options throughout the city.
  • The real life impacts from major code proposals should be measured using the Envision Tomorrow tool and other metrics-based planning tools. The impact of the proposed code must be analyzed before it is finalized.

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Chamber delegates drive advocacy on D.C. trip

The Austin Chamber this week led a delegation of 60 business, civic and elected leaders to Washington, D.C. to meet with the White House, Senators Cornyn and Cruz, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the seven members of our U.S. House delegation.

The Chamber delegation, led by 2016 Chair Fred Heldenfels IV, Pete Winstead and Ben Barnes, represented 17 CEOs and 53 other major leaders. These individuals gave their time to represent our region in our requests regarding how we can better partner with decision makers in Washington, D.C. to improve our local innovation ecosystem and infrastructure.

Central Texas doesn’t have natural resources to exploit. Our economy prospers on the private sector’s ability to create new technologies, markets, and small, high growth companies. That growth is fostered by an effective partnership between the federal, state and local governments, higher education and private sector.

Primarily, our team asked those in Washington, D.C. to continue to invest in innovation and talent. Click here for our Federal legislative agenda.

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Austin Chamber receives national grant to build upon college financial aid program

The National College Access Network (NCAN) selected the city of Austin to receive up to $55,000 for the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Completion Challenge Grant. The grant will support the Chamber’s partnership with local education and business leaders to increase college financial aid completion from 50% in June 2016 to 60% by June 2017. The increase would mean approximately 1,400 more filings over the prior year and would yield about $15 million more in financial aid for Central Texas students.

In total, 22 U.S. cities were selected for the FAFSA Completion Challenge. Each grant-funded city will compete for three to five additional monetary prizes totaling $300,000. According to NCAN, prizes will go to:

  • The city demonstrating greatest percentage point growth in high school FAFSA completions for the Class of 2017, compared to the Class of 2015
  • The city demonstrating the highest high school FAFSA completion rate for the Class of 2017
  • The city demonstrating the most innovative or collaborative FAFSA completion strategy and/or partnership with postsecondary institutions

 FINAL“Submitting a strong unified regional application for Central Texas with the broad support from Austin’s college access organizations like Breakthrough Austin, Con Mi Madre and College Forward and E3 Alliance – was vital to securing the grant”, said Gilbert Zavala, VP of Education at the Chamber.

The Chamber has a long history of promoting financial aid completion in the region. This past year was the most successful ever. Approximately 7,600 area seniors filed their FAFSA before key deadlines. Year over year, this is an increase of 12 percent – which is expected to bring $9.6 million more in aid to local students. Further, as of April 1, 2016 – an important college deadline – our efforts with partner school districts yielded the highest FAFSA filing rate in the state.

Regional FAFSA 4 1 16 Data

Two significant changes to the FAFSA process are coming next year. Next year’s senior class will be able to start filing on October 1. 2016 (a change from previous start of January 1) and parents can use their tax forms from two years prior to fill out the FAFSA. These changes will make applying for aid easier, but many families may be unaware of deadline changes.

Resources from the NCAN grant will help strengthen the Chamber’s financial aid marketing campaign directed to students and parents. In addition, the Chamber plans to expand the flow of real-time FAFSA data to college access organizations that support school districts to ensure students file for aid in time to qualify for need and merit based funding. Ultimately, by expanding financial aid efforts, more families will be able to afford college.

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Transportation Engagement Opportunities

Raise your voice. Share your opinion. Get engaged. Improving mobility is one of the highest priorities for the Austin Chamber. As part of our advocacy program, we continue to keep the business community informed about opportunities to share feedback. 

Mobility Talks

Mobility Talks is the City’s online public engagement platform designed to solicit citizen input on mobility issues. The feedback gathered by Mobility Talks will inform the development of a potential transportation bond this November. Make your priorities known by taking the survey and/or sending an email to City Council. The final day to respond to the online questionnaire is Sunday, May 8th. Your feedback will be presented to the Austin City Council’s Mobility Committee on June 8, 2016. Learn more about Mobility Talks here.

Proposition 1

On April 28, the Austin Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support the passage of Proposition 1 related to the regulation of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). A vote for Prop 1 ensures that Austin continues to be a welcoming environment for innovation while keeping both drivers and users of ride-hailing applications safe. Early voting ends May 3rd and Election Day is Saturday, May 7th. Click here for the full text of the Board’s resolution.

Austin Don’t Rush 

Mayor Adler launched Austin Don’t Rush campaign – a one-day challenge to help ease congestion on our roads. On Wednesday, May 11th, Austinites are being asked to do anything they can to remove single-occupant vehicles from rush hour traffic. When travelling to work or school, the Chamber encourages its members to carpool, telework, take the bus, ride a bike, or drive during non-peak hours. For tools to help you better plan your commute, visit our partner, Movability Austin.

Smart Cities Challenge Workshop

On April 27, dozens of local and out-of-market businesses attended the City of Austin Transportation Department’s Smart Cities Workshop at the AT&T Conference Center at UT-Austin. The focus of the event, sponsored in part by the Chamber, was to engage the private sector in developing Austin’s Smart City Challenge proposal. Austin is one of seven cities around the country vying for a $50 million grant supported by the USDOT and Vulcan Philanthropies. To learn more about this initiative, visit the City’s Smart City Challenge website. Vendors interested in partnering with the City have been asked to submit an RFQ by Friday, May 6th. For details, please contact Andy Cantu or

Mobility Solutions Network

The Rocky Mountain Institute, with support from the Austin Chamber and MobilityATX, is working to build a collaborative network of organizations and individuals interested in solving Austin’s mobility challenges. Please join us on Thursday, May 12th for a kick-off event at Google Fiber’s Fiber Space for an interactive evening of presentations and discussions. The first in a series, this forum will showcase existing efforts aimed at creating an improved mobility system in Austin. Rather than focusing on problems, we’ll provide a platform for entrepreneurs, policy makers, researchers, and advocates to pitch their ideas and solutions. Click here to register. Light refreshments will be served.

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2016 FAFSA Contest Final Results Announced


logosThe 2016 FAFSA Contest has come to an end. This year we’ve had record FAFSA rates in the region, with 800 more students filing this year compared to last!

The final results are listed below. The FAFSA data was provided by the U.S. Department of Education and reflects FAFSA submissions by April 1, 2016. The student leader from the following ten schools just won a $1,000 scholarship, provided by C3 Presents:

  • Ann Richards, LASA, Manor New Tech, KIPP Austin Collegiate, Hutto, McCallum, Cedar Park, Hendrickson, McNeil and Westwood.

The following three schools won the VIP movie screening from Alamo Drafthouse.

  • Ann Richards, Hutto and Hendrickson.

contest FINAL

A few concluding notes:

  • As a region, the total FAFSA submission rate was 49%, 4 percentage points higher than last year – and the highest ever for Central Texas schools.
  • Ann Richards dominated the field from the beginning. 90% of their senior class filed their FAFSA before March 31. Well done, Eric Heineman and team.
  • Hutto HS made a strong push and ended up winning the medium category quite convincingly. Good job, Erica Blando and team.
  • Hendrickson HS also made a great final push. Hard work from Kara Tappendorf and her student leader helped secure the top spot in the large category.
  • There was impressive work all around, but the largest schools ended up doing the best. The collective average of schools in the large category was much higher than the others.

Although we didn’t meet our regional goal for a 55% filing rate by March 31, we made a lot of progress. We learned a lot along the way and we’re eager to begin next year’s FAFSA push in October 2016. If you didn’t already know, students in the Class of 2017 can begin filing for financial aid on October 1, 2016 and they can use 2015 tax information. We expect this to be a game changer and it will enable more early filings next year. Click here to learn more about the FAFSA changes.

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Nat’l Report: 25% of Texas graduates estimated college and career ready

Washington, DC nonprofit Achieve recently released a report that estimated only 25% of Texas students in the Class of 2015 graduated college/career ready, according to ACT and SAT data. The Austin Chamber uses a different methodology to determine college readiness – aligned with Texas’ lesser criteria which allows for lower ACT or SAT scores to count as college ready. 

However, by either Achieve’s or Texas’ definition, Texas has a problem: we no longer have reliable information for each junior and senior on whether they are college ready or not.  What we are finding is that, despite requirements in Texas law (passed in 2013), the vast majority of school districts around the state simply don’t know which juniors and seniors are college ready today. School districts need this information so they can counsel students who are not college ready to become so. 

This wasn’t always the case. In 2006, Texas organized the public school system to expose students to a well-rounded course of study needed to graduate college/career ready. Content and assessments from elementary to high school became vertically linked to that outcome.  But, in 2013, Texas abandoned ship. House Bill 5 significantly lowered course expectations and dropped Algebra II, Geometry, English III (11th Grade), Chemistry and Physics from state assessment.  Thus, for the first time in a decade, Texas no longer systematically tests student college/career readiness. And as we all know, what gets measured gets done. With the absence of state tests – and the fact that only 66% of Texas students take the SAT/ACT – many students go through high school without knowledge of whether they are college/career ready…which is in clear violation of HB 5.

During the Interim, we urge the Legislature to reexamine Sen. Kel Seliger’s unsuccessful bill (SB 452) from 2015 which would have funded and required schools to administer a college readiness test for all Texas 10th grade students. This way, we will all know for sure whether or not a student is college ready and will be able to help students that are not.

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