McALLEN, July 3 - State Sen. Juan Hinojosa is working on legislation to boost vocational training in Texas high schools.
The McAllen Democrat wants to see school districts and community colleges collaborate to create specialized courses in high schools for those students who do not want to go to college but who do want to learn a trade.
“One of the main complaints I here from the business community is we do not have enough skilled labor. I hear the complaint over and over again,” Hinojosa said. “When I look at our high school system it seems to me we have gotten away from what we had many years ago when we had more emphasis on vocational skills.”
Hinojosa made his remarks in a speech to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs committee.
“Not everybody wants to go to college. That does not mean they are dumb or they are not intelligent or smart. These young people do not want to go to college but they do want to learn certain skills so they can be employable,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said that in preparation for legislation he will file next session he is currently researching how the collaborations between high schools and community colleges might work.
“I am looking at models that are working in other parts of the state where school districts partner with the community colleges and they design courses, from technical computer work, to fixing air conditioning, to tool and die,” Hinojosa said.
“These are skilled jobs that are not being filled. The job openings are there but they are not being matched by the skills of labor. We are moving in a direction to make that type of education available to our students that want to do that.”
Hinojosa’s ideas are likely to be warmly received by Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken. In a speech in San Antonio in March, Pauken proposed reintroducing vocational and technical education at the high school level. Such a policy, he said, would help Texas’ manufacturing base.
“I hope this next legislative session we will wake up. Just because we have done things a certain way for the past decade or so should not mean we continue to do it that way. It isn’t working for a lot of the young people in the State of Texas and it isn’t working for industry in the State of Texas,” Pauken said.
Pauken spoke at the Eagle Ford Shale Consortium Inaugural Conference, held at the Omni Colonnade in San Antonio. His remarks were carried exclusively by the Guardian. Pauken said he had spoken with a lot of superintendents about the re-introduction of vocational and technical education at the high school level. He said they are very supportive but hamstrung by state policies.
“I talk to a lot of superintendents and school officials and they tell me they want to do more with vocational and technical education at their level and in their institution. But when the performance measurement and when the state funding and state mandates are all pushing in a different direction, it puts them in a very difficult position,” Pauken said.
“They see and they understand they see are losing a lot of kids and they want that opportunity to get back to local control and get back to a situation where they have the discretion to respond to the needs and the demands out there, just like some of our community colleges are doing.”
Hinojosa gave his speech at the Renaissance Casa de Palmas hotel in McAllen last Wednesday. In the speech he referenced the state and national attention PSJA ISD Superintendent Danny King is getting for his successful initiatives to reduce the number of dropouts in his schools. Working with South Texas College, PSJA has established a special academy for those students who initially dropped out of high school. King and his staff go door to door looking for those students to encourage them to come back and secure their high school diploma. While doing so they earn college credits.
Hinojosa said he passed legislation last session to turn PSJA’s dropout recovery program into a statewide model, with school districts and community colleges throughout the state developing similar partnerships to PSJA and STC.
Hinojosa also spoke about the cuts made in public education funding last session. He said lawmakers were faced with a $25 billion state deficit going into the session. They cut $15 billion in all areas of state government and about $5 billion in public education. These cuts meant no money was provided for enrollment growth. Hinojosa said Texas schools are adding about 180,000 extra students each biennium. He said $1.4 billion was cut from education grants and special programs while funding for Pre-K was cut in half.
Hinojosa made clear his opposition to these cuts. “Education is the future of our state. Our business community needs a skilled, educated, workforce and those cuts were pretty devastating,” he said.
Hinojosa also denounced the shift in the burden of taxation away from state to local government. He pointed out that in 1980, when he first became a legislator, the state picked up 70 percent of the cost of public education. Today, he said, that figure has slipped to 40 percent. “Guess who is picking up the cost? Local and property taxpayers,” Hinojosa said.
“Make no mistake, the state can raise a lot of revenues without doing any damage to the economy but the local communities do not. They only have property taxes, pretty much. It is a big issue. I think the state should face up to its responsibilities and fund public education at a sustainable level whereby we do not increase the cost to local communities.”
Hinojosa also reported to the McAllen Chamber’s governmental affairs panel that various lawsuits have been filed against the state over public education funding. He said there were genuine concerns over funding equality.
“Those lawsuits have a lot of merit. My philosophy is that a student, regardless of where he or she lives, ought to get a quality education and have equal funding, whether you live in McAllen, or Dallas, or Muleshoe. Right now, that is not the case,” Hinojosa said.
The veteran lawmaker said he has been appointed to a legislative panel that is looking at ways of developing a fair funding system for public education. The plan is to “divide people’s tax money in such a way everybody gets a fair share,” Hinojosa said.