Having a sharp former politician for a chancellor can't possibly hurt the Texas A&M University System heading into a legislative session when accountability and affordability again will be starting points for any conversations about money for higher education.Less than a month ago, A&M officials unveiled an online research tool, telling the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that they're ready for "outcomes-based funding" -- the state's shift from basing appropriations on students enrolled to focusing on graduates produced, for at least part of each school's allocation."I learned a long time ago that money affects outcomes," said A&M Chancellor John Sharp, whose résumé includes having been elected to the Texas House and Senate, to the Railroad Commission and as state comptroller.As for how much funding should be outcomes-based, he offered, "Maybe it should be more than 10 percent, even 25 percent."Lo and behold, this week state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, pre-filed HB25, which would set a 25 percent ceiling on the amount of undergraduate funding that's based on "student success measures."That's an increase from 2011, when the Legislature directed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to make recommendations for ways of allocating 10 percent of that money based on factors besides the traditional measure of how many students are sitting in classrooms on the 12th class day.In April, the coordinating board made its recommendations: 10 percent of funding for two-year colleges would turn on such things as the number of students completing developmental courses, earning credits and associate degrees, and transferring to four-year schools; 10 percent of funding for universities would be based on criteria such as how many students continue after their first year, finish in six years, receive degrees and complete degrees in critical fields, including math, engineering and healthcare.It's still going to be a challenge for schools to prove that their graduates got a solid education. But the change in emphasis is part of a long push to give the public more of a sense that it's getting what it's paying for in an age of ballooning higher education costs.While Gov. Rick Perry has wrangled with the University of Texas in particular over motives and methods, the drive for more accountability and cost saving isn't just about politics. It affects how tax dollars are disbursed and how many families can afford public colleges.Branch, the chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, also pre-filed HB29, which would require four-year schools to offer a plan for students to pay the same tuition for their first four years.That's bound to be welcomed by families looking for more certainty in college costs -- but met with consternation by institutions that see it as a high price to pay for continued power to set their own tuition rates.Two other pre-filed higher ed bills might not get the attention they merit.Branch's HB31 would require boards of regents governing the state's university systems to put all their meeting materials online and broadcast the public portions of their sessions.Judging from their websites, the UT and Texas A&M regents already do that. But the others, including the University of North Texas, Texas Tech, the University of Houston and Texas State, don't have webcasts, and the amount of agenda material varies greatly.SB46 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would give college students a sales tax holiday for textbook purchases. There are a few practical problems, though. The bill doesn't specifically include increasingly popular (and less expensive) textbook rentals, which are also taxed. Books would have to be bought during a 10-day window in August or January, which means early birds or students who get into classes late would be out of luck. And the comptroller would have to figure out how students could prove that they're students when buying online.Otherwise, the savings could buy a few student meals.