News Room

From the Senator's Desk . . .
April 26, 2007

In El Paso, where so many of us work daily to emerge from the humblest means, a free and high-quality public education is the only difference between a life of poverty and a life of economic independence.

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,


What you Learn is What you Earn:
More than ever, investing in education

Education is the key to our success. In our personal lives, education drives our ability to realize our potential and achieve our dreams. 

In El Paso, where so many of us work daily to emerge from the humblest means, a free and high-quality public education is the only difference between a life of poverty and a life of economic independence.

Our founding fathers realized as much early in the Republic.  Thomas Jefferson, the first "education" President, said many times that the greatest safeguard to liberty is education.  In 1818, he wrote to a friend, "If the condition of man [humanity] is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." 

For these reasons, not alone, institutional and financial roadblocks to learning must be removed and replaced with opportunity in Texas.  In 2001, for example, we passed a budget that made sure every eligible college student received a TEXAS Grant.  But, in 2003, a $10 billion budget shortfall resulted in frozen funding and tuition deregulation.  The result: tuition soared and tens of thousands of students lost their TEXAS Grant. 

Today, with a $14.3 billion surplus, only 40 percent of eligible students receive a TEXAS Grant.  By 2010, that number will drop to 25 percent.

In El Paso, a 47% tuition hike at UTEP challenges the ability of students to stay in college. 

"My real concern is the fact that my family is a middle class family.  If they increase tuition more, they're going to put us beyond our limit.  It'll be hard to pay for school," says Adam Setra, a freshman at UTEP, "The highest paying jobs in this area pay $7 to $8 dollars an hour with a high school diploma.  It's a vicious cycle where if you don't go to work you can't pay for school; and if you don't go to school, you can't get a better job."

Statewide, the Governor's Business Council recently stated that Texas is failing in its investment in education—"we're not only struggling, we're falling behind."  Their sober report, released in February, shows that Texas is becoming less and less educated over time, a trend in the wrong direction: 

The portion of young adults attaining a college degree is well below the national average and even further below many competitor countries.  In fact, our State's 25 to 34 year olds are the least educated group of Texans in two decades, less educated than 35 to 44 year olds who are, in turn, less educated than 45 to 54 year olds.  In most other competitor countries, it's just the opposite with the younger population outperforming the older population in educational attainment. [emphasis in original]

In India, the world is learning another fast lesson in the economic value of education.  This month, The New Yorker profiled India's low investment in education as it relates to its emerging shortage of educated workers.  James Surowiecki reports, "There was a time when many economists believed that post-secondary education didn’t have much impact on economic growth. The really important educational gains, they thought, came from giving rudimentary skills to large numbers of people." 

Surowiecki continues, "They believed that, in economic terms, society got a very low rate of return on its investment in higher education. But lately that assumption has been overturned, and the social rate of return on investment in university education in India has been calculated at an impressive nine or ten per cent. In other words, every dollar India puts into higher education creates value for the economy as a whole."

In Texas, state demographer, Steve Murdoch understands these economics.  If we don't change Texas' future through education, he says, we will have a Texas in 2040 that is poorer and less competitive in the future than it is today. Murdoch explains, "The average Texas household in 2040—if you didn't change anything—would be $6,500 poorer in 2000 constant dollars than the average household in 2000 was."

Quality teachers, strong early education, small class sizes, access to technology, and after-school programs are key to success in public education.  Financial aid, lower tuition costs, and quality curriculum are key to success in higher education. 

With that resolve, I filed S.C.R. 47 to create a select commission on higher education and global competitiveness in Texas.  S.C.R. 47 requests that the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the speaker of the house of representatives create the select commission with the purpose of drafting a Texas Compact establishing a long-term vision and step-by-step plan to increase our educational competitiveness by 2020.  The plan would be submitted by November 1, 2008.

In addition, this week the Senate Education Committee passed S.B. 127, a bill we filed with 18 Senate co-authors to permanently fund Communities In Schools (CIS), the largest dropout prevention program in Texas.  S.B. 127 increases funding and creates a mandatory set-aside for CIS within the Education Code.

To make education our real priority, here are additional initiatives we have filed this session: 

  • Reward top teachers with more pay, incentives to encourage national certification in hard to teach subjects like math and science (S.B. 1220);
  • Increase technology in classrooms for a competitive 21st century education (S.B. 780);
  • Encourage learning with proven programs like two way dual language curriculum (S.B. 553);
  • Keep kids in school with proven after school programs like Communities In Schools, that link business, education and non profits in a common cause (S.B. 127);
  • Increase Texas grants so more students can go to college (S.B. 375); and
  • Encourage business to make a college education Texas' top priority (S.C.R. 47).

In the 21st century knowledge economy, what you earn will depend on what you learn. 

Keep the faith!

Senator Eliot Shapleigh

Eliot Shapleigh


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