The last session of the Legislature spent considerably more time on political matters such as passing voter identification and jousting windmills of perceived invasions by hordes of illegal immigrants than on the challenges of providing future generations of Texans with an adequate education.
It is difficult to discern why a governor would promote voter identification as an emergency item to cure a non-existent problem and almost ignore the crisis of funding equity for public education. Nonetheless, the Legislature ignored the normal increase in student population and blithely shortchanged public education by almost five billion dollars, declared victory for the session and went home.
As a result of the failure of the Legislature and other state leaders to address public education, classroom size--previously limited to a 21:1 ratio--has been ignored. Local tax increases have virtually been mandated by the Legislature, while shouting “no new taxes,” and in effect mandating increased local taxes on your home and business.
Texas is in the top 2 or 3 states leading in school dropouts and teen pregnancies, and will soon be a leader in adults with no high school diploma. In a time when hi-tech and skilled jobs are clearly the answer to a prosperous future, Texas continues to boast of a business climate which contains the most minimum wage workers of any state in the union.
A more recent red light popped up on the dashboard of our state government in the form of the College Board reporting that now Texas' scores on college entrance exams have dropped below the national average. While it is somewhat encouraging that 2% more students took the exam, it is discouraging the average scores dropped by 3 points. Such a situation is a clear warning we are not adequately preparing the students of Texas public education for the kind of education and accompanying jobs the future demands.
The college entrance exam is important for another reason. Numerous scholarly studies have indicated one of the key ingredients to having disadvantaged students proceed and succeed in obtaining a higher education is the belief they have the ability and opportunity to do so. A case in point frequently cited is a situation in Brooklyn, New York, where a self-made millionaire visited a class in his old school. The millionaire guaranteed every member of the class that should they succeed in obtaining a high school diploma he would in fact pay their tuition and expenses to college. Because of this promise, almost 100% of the class entered and successfully attended college. In fact, the millionaire was saved out-of-pocket expense because a significant number of the class did so well they earned academic scholarships for college.
Successfully passing a college entrance exam while in high school surely gives encouragement and hope to the student taking the exam that he or she has the ability to get in and complete a college education.
It is incumbent on us, as citizens, to demand of our members of the Legislature, of both parties, that they begin to focus more on the next generation than on the next election.