Education Opens Doors to Economic Development
by State Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa
Thanks to the diversity of Texas's economic landscape, Texas is leading the nation in job creation and boasts an unemployment rate lower than the national average. But we must not let this deceive us. Now is the critical time to invest in our state's rebounding economy — in our new generations and our growing workforce.
Texas is a big state, with a labor force to match. Texas is also a young state, with 27% of our population under 18 years of age. While our younger generations are eager to tackle the work ahead and are full of goals and dreams, they can't do this without the skills and education required to succeed. Education is the best economic development tool we have.
But our growing job demands are far outpacing our workforce skills and qualifications. In today's information economy, 90% of all new jobs require more than a high school diploma and our business communities complain of vacant job openings with no skilled labor to fill them.
How is it that we have Texans desperately looking for work and at the same time have businesses desperately looking to fill job slots? Although initially perplexing, a closer look reveals the root cause is simply a lack of education. Texas ranks 43rd in the nation when it comes to graduating high school students. And statewide, of the workforce with less than a high school diploma, 71% are Hispanic. For regions like ours, with growing Hispanic populations, we need to pay attention to this stark reality if we want to bridge the gap between job openings and job seekers.
But this can't be done without collaboration — collaboration between teachers, parents, students, business and community leaders. Communities must emphasize the correlation between education and the economy. With more education comes more opportunities and higher paying jobs that translate into a stronger economy. With more dropouts come more tax dollars lost --expenses associated with lost wages, welfare, incarceration and diminished tax revenue cost the state an estimated $9.6 billion.
As of last month, the City of Corpus Christi decided to raise the bar for employment at City Hall by requiring all new full-time employees to have at least a high school diploma. Although seemingly harsh at first glance, it is opening doors rather than closing them. Current employees are getting a helpful push as they are being encouraged to take classes to earn their GED and are being allowed flexibility in their schedules. Corpus Christi City Hall gets it — the need to establish a minimum standard of qualification for employees and the realization that there will soon be no alternative to completing high school.
A couple of years ago, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District was plagued with a dropout rate double the Texas average, much like many of our school districts. But through extraordinary efforts and a solidly implemented dropout recovery program, they reduced their dropout rate by 80%. I saw the remarkable accomplishments of the PSJA model and knew it needed to be duplicated. Last Legislative Session, I authored Senate Bill 975 the Statewide Dropout Recovery Bill which expanded this blueprint for success to all Texas schools to give young people a second chance to earn their diploma.
In the increasing global competition for work, we must offer a better future to our younger generations. Now is the time to invest in our youth and workforce through education and skills-training to ensure Texans are ready for the jobs of the future.