You are here

Sorry state of public education seen as threat to economic growth

San Antonio Express-News
December 4, 2014

By Lynn Brezosky

With nearly one in four Latino students not meeting reading standards by third grade — and the size of the state's Latino population expected to double by 2050 — public education in Texas is in a state of emergency, says a report commissioned by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber took on the study to prove links between a region's education levels and economic prosperity. It was released ahead of a new legislative session in Austin, with local state representatives pledging to restore the billions cut from public education in 2011.

John Gonzalez, chairman of the chamber’s economic development committee, said business leaders told the chamber that access to an adequate labor supply was their top concern.

“This is not a statement saying help our kids because they’re Latino,” Gonzalez said Thursday at a news conference at Margil Elementary School on the West Side. “It’s a statement that merely reflects the demographic bottom line.”

The chamber teamed with the University of Texas at San Antonio and Intercultural Development and Research Association to produce a white paper that will be circulated among policy makers in Austin and Washington.

Among the statistics presented in the paper: Texas ranks 30th in preschool investment and 24 percent of Latino students aren’t on target for reading by third grade.“As this white paper makes clear, education is at the heart of economic vitality for individuals, for families, for communities, and for our state as a whole,” said Laurie Posner, senior education associate for the IDRA. “This paper provides a road map.”

“Until third grade, most students are learning to read — by the end of third grade, they need to be reading to learn,” the paper says.

Just 79 percent of Latino students meet eighth-grade reading standards and 72 percent meet eighth-grade math standards.

Only 57 percent of all students and 48 percent of Hispanic students graduate from high school college-ready. And Texas trails the nation in awarding degrees and credentials in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

That’s potentially devastating for the state’s present and future economic development — it’s hard for companies to stay in regions that don’t offer a sufficiently trained workforce, the report’s authors said. And a low-paid workforce means a slow-burning regional economy.

“The implications to the business community are extraordinary,” Gonzalez said. “We, the employers, want an educated workforce. If a significant percentage of the population is not getting a good education, then the business community will cease to be able to function efficiently.”

Had the 26,500 Texas Latinos who were 25 and didn’t have a diploma in 2012 had a four-year degree, their additional earnings over the next 40 years would aggregate to $27.6 billion. That could have meant $18.5 billion in additional sales and $1.2 billion more in state sales tax, the report said.

The 4.9 percent increase in Texas high school graduation rates between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 school years means an increase in $4.9 billion in real lifetime earnings.

A 90 percent graduation rate could bring $729 million in increased annual spending, $1.2 billion in increased annual gross product, and $42 million in increased annual state and local tax revenues.

In 2011, state lawmakers cut funding for public education by $5.4 billion to help balance the two-year budget. About $3 billion was restored in 2013. State Reps. José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer — San Antonio Democrats who are vying for outgoing state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s seat — said restoring the rest was for them a 2015 legislative priority.

Patricia Pliego Stout, chairwoman of the chamber, said her entrepreneurial drive helped her achieve success even though she didn’t finish college. But she said a lot of students will never meet their potential with better public education, and while college is mentioned repeatedly in her household, she’s not sure it’s mentioned in others.

“I made it, and I made it big,” she said. “But you cannot play roulette with education.”