Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Education in Texas

Both a pleasurable and informative experience for me as chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee was serving as one of Texas’ representatives in the Southern Regional Educational Board.   This board was created several years ago in an effort to try to bring southern states into the 20th Century and catch up with the rest of the United States in educating our children.  There are 16 states, mostly southern, with 2 border states of Maryland and Delaware.  This organization, of all of the organizations I had an opportunity to participate in while a member of the Texas Senate, was the most productive in producing ideas and studies of education.  I had the privilege of chairing the legislative branch of the SREB and, as a result, still receive publications produced by them.

In perusing the most recent publication, I learned some very cogent facts about our state in comparison to many others.  I have often opined we should all appreciate Mississippi because it keeps Texas from being dead last in many statistics, particularly related to education.  The tables presented in the most recent publication of the SREB bear out this unfortunate fact in some respects.  Many of the statistical analyses contained in the report are worth passing on to Texans, particularly, if they are concerned about education.

The most cogent facts presented in the report deal with population change and the status of educational funding and the impact of education on earnings--facts which might be helpful to parents as they are talking to their children about the desirability of getting a college degree.  Statistical analysis by the SREB shows a professional degree on the average is worth $128,600 a year; doctoral degree, $400,000; a master degree, $74,200; a bachelor degree, $58,800; an associate degree, $41,500; and any college degree, $38,600.  High school graduation, on average, is worth $32,800. Less than a high school education is worth approximately $19,000 in earning per year.  This makes a good argument for the value of a good education.  While the chart shows the value to the person receiving the education, there is an equal and corresponding value to the community in which the college graduate lives and works.  The taxes he or she will pay alone for the enhanced annual salary is well worth the investment made by taxpayers in helping that person be educated.

Unfortunately, the bad news in the report is Texas is second from the bottom in the number of its public school students who finish.  Were it not for Mississippi, we would be dead last.  We also are losing the race for students entering college seeking a bachelor or graduate degree.  North Carolina leads with 91% of their students seeking such degrees, while Texas lags behind all other states and beats only Mississippi again by 74%.  

Although Texas is in the middle with increased funding for higher education, the statistical analysis does not divide the amount of taxpayer money put into higher education--rather, it combines appropriated tax money along with increased tuition.

The analysis concerning various populations of White, Black, Hispanic and Other indicates the projection for 2019 that Hispanic students will rise from 54% of the student population to 62% while White students decrease from 42% of the student population to 32%.

I have often said one of the toughest things about being an advocate for quality education is explaining to taxpayers why it is in their best interest to educate someone else’s child.  A review of any statistical analysis comparing all states on the value of education can clearly demonstrate that an educated populace, including an educated workforce, brings great value to the community–not only in taxes paid, but simply social value to the community.  This seems to be a cogent fact forgotten by too many members of our Legislature. 

If Texas is to glean anything from this SREB report, it is that our leaders need to prepare for the contingencies of the future.  Texas already employs more minimum wage workers than any other state in the Union.  If we are to be a growing and vibrant state with a growing and vibrant economy, it is absolutely imperative that we prepare future generations with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the modern world.  It is in every Texan’s interest to make it easier, not harder, for young people to get more and more education.  Failure to do so will end up costing Texas in the long run.

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