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Education called vital to Texas ‘miracle’

🕐 6 min read

The continuation of what people are calling the Texas miracle – continued growth in population and jobs – increasingly is dependent on the education system in the state, Todd Williams, founding chairman, CEO and president of The Commit Partnership, told participants at the North Texas Commission’s Legislative Summit on Oct. 15.

In 2015, Texas set a statewide goal endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott to assure that 60 percent of the state’s students would have some type of post-secondary education by 2030.

That’s important, because of the increasing requirement that people have education beyond high school in the job markets of the future.

Tom Luce, founder and managing partner of the Hughes and Luce law firm and a former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush, spoke earlier at the meeting about the need for the state to have specific planning for the future, including building an educated workforce.

By 2036, Luce said, at least two-thirds of the jobs that pay more than minimum wage will require 14 years of education.

It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to graduate from college, but it does mean that some form of education beyond high school – community college training or a national level of certification – is going to be mandatory.

“Let me show you why that educated workforce matters so much. To say this very clear that 2036, naturally, I believe the 65 percent number may be low, but at least two-thirds of our jobs will require 14 years of education. Meaning, you’re right, not every child has to finish a four-year college. Every child, to hold a job other than the minimum wage job, must finish 14 years of education.”

Williams said that in terms of the state objective of getting 60 percent of adults ages 25-34 to that level, Texas stands at 42 percent, with 18 points to go and 12 years to get there.

“If you look at the data based on what we’ve achieved in the last seven to eight years, we’re not going to hit 60 by 30. If you look at what we achieved the last year, we have a fighting chance,” Williams said.

“But clearly, what’s happening in our state is that our own outcomes with our own 5.4 million children is significantly diluting our ability to hit that goal, because only 21 percent of eighth graders … by the time they turn 24, have any type of living-wage post-secondary credential, whether it be a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or a technical certificate,” he said.

Williams said he formed a partnership in 2012 with school districts, presidents of foundations, business leaders, nonprofits, trying to ground decisions on data.

“What should we change in terms of actions, resources, spending, investing, trying to get better outcomes than we have today?” Williams asked the crowd.

In 2017, Williams was appointed to the Texas Commission on School Finance by the governor He accepted with some hesitancy.

“You don’t really know what you’re getting into. Is this really a commission that’s going to really work to try and solve and make some real solutions? Or is this a little bit more for show?

“I would tell you that after nine months, I’ve actually been positively surprised by the conversations and the dialog and the ability to really get a lot of real data in front of people who control resources to try and change and understand where our system is breaking down and how we might invest more in our system, but do it smartly,” he said.

For context, he said, Texas ranks second in the country in the percentage of students who are learning English, 12th in the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and are considered economically disadvantaged and 43rd in spending per pupil.

The state is 46th in statewide rankings in fourth-grade reading skills, 41st in eighth grade reading and in the middle in the pack in math outcomes.

“We cannot immigrate our way to a 60 percent goal, and equally important, we cannot continue to leave hundreds of thousands of kids behind who are not able to participate in the prosperity that we’ve created collectively as a community. We want real equity, and everyone should have a shot at the American dream, and not just those people who are educated outside the state of Texas,” Williams said.

In terms of the state’s economy, forget about the moral reason about why we (Texas) need to act and collectively come up with a great solution, and look at what workers earn with a post-secondary credential compared with those who have a high school degree, he said.

The answer, Williams said, is roughly $1 million in lifetime earnings.

Texas annually graduates 200,000 high school seniors who six years later do not have a post-secondary credential.

“When you do the math, that means $200 billion in loss lifetime earnings for each and every graduating class. To put that in perspective, that is one eighth of the Texas economy,” Williams said. “So there is a huge opportunity cost, because we are not sufficiently investing strategically in our own kids, who can buy more cars, who can buy more houses, who can pay our taxes etc.”

Luce said that by 2036, to keep the state’s current low unemployment rate, Texas must create roughly 6 million jobs.

“We’ve had this Texas miracle because we have low taxes, we have good infrastructure, we have low regulations, and where a lot of people are attracted to that and bring jobs to this region,” Williams said.

Williams chaired the outcomes working group for the Texas Commission of School Finance and his group issued a report in July.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that throwing more money at the situation just to throw more money is not going to solve the problem,” he said. “But smart investing and critical points can make a huge difference and there’s been a lot of discussion about that.”

Williams’ recommendations include additional funding in kindergarten through third grade, including incentives to districts to deal with the more challenging low-income students and a plan to increase teachers’ pay to keep them in the profession in the most challenging districts.

A third recommendation is to assure that high school graduates do not need remedial education in post-secondary classes and to help them fill out financial aid forms, college applications and other requirements to get access to some type of post-secondary education.

Williams called for the business community to become involved.

“I’ve sat through 70 hours of testimony, and we’ve had lots of great testimony about great things happening and where the challenges are,” he said. “What we haven’t had in those commission hearings is the voice of city leaders, is the voice of industry, talking about the challenges that we’re facing, how hard it is to find talent, what we’re having to spend to recruit people from out of the state, relocation costs, search firm costs, all those things.”

It is critically important that businesses speak up so that the voice is not just coming from the legislators, Williams said.

The need is great, Luce said in his presentation.

“In 2011 and 2012, we reduced public education funding $5 billion. We’ve reduced assessment. We’ve reduced accountability. We’ve reduced standards. We took our foot off the accelerator and guess what? Our academic achievement is now declining,” he said.

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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