While the budget, pandemic and the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri dominated much of the recent legislative session, lawmakers made unmatched progress in education-to-workforce alignment issues that will have long-term benefits for Texas students, employers and the economy.

Several new policies will ensure students have access to educational opportunities needed for the job market in Texas. Crafting quality workforce development programs requires collaboration between employers, high schools and community and technical colleges. A bill by Rep. Keith Bell advances this goal by creating a new advisory council of business, teachers and community colleges to develop industry-based certifications to prepare students to meet current and future workforce needs.

A public school finance bill by Rep. Dan Huberty improves the formula funding for career & technical education (CTE) to better align “programs of study” to ensure students are prepared for in-demand, high-wage careers. The new formulas reward school districts for offering CTE courses and pay a higher reimbursement rate. Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s bill adds an achievement indicator in the public school accountability system when students complete a program of study by high school graduation.

For employers seeking to collaborate with higher education partners to serve specific needs, a public community or junior college will have the “first right of refusal” to meet those needs under a bill by Rep. John Raney. If the community college is unwilling or unable to do so, now employers will be able to invite competing colleges or workforce-training providers to partner with them. This new law could be a real game-changer for businesses or industries in under-served communities.

A bill by Rep. Murphy will make permanent the “Tri-Agency Initiative,” a collaborative effort of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.  These agencies will work together to identify statewide workforce goals and designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current needs and forecasted, high-growth careers. The agencies will also evaluate career education and training programs based on the outcomes of program participants to ensure transparency and accountability on state workforce spending.

The three agencies create tools that allow average Texans to evaluate workforce programs, build a platform to provide students with information on jobs and earning potential and create a public dashboard that tracks the state’s progress toward meeting its workforce development goals.  An initiative by Rep. JM Lozano requires the three state agencies to develop a framework to encourage work-based learning opportunities like internships, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.

In response to the pandemic and rising unemployment, there have been calls to re-skill and up-skill the state’s workforce to put Texans back to work in high-demand occupations and accelerate our economic recovery. A bill by Sen. Brandon Creighton establishes the Texas Re-skilling and Up-skilling through Education (TRUE) Initiative to support workforce education at public junior colleges. Funding for competitive grants will likely be debated during a special session later this fall to appropriate $16 billion in federal relief funds.

Sen. Larry Taylor authored a bill that creates the Texas Commission on Community College Finance to study state appropriations for public community and junior colleges. The commission will make recommendations for establishing a state funding formula and funding levels sufficient for sustaining viable community college education and training offerings throughout Texas.

Finally, lawmakers fully funded the “returned value funding formula” by Texas State Technical College, which pays that institution based on their graduates’ incomes, not hours in the classroom. The system rewards quality technical training, employability, and job placement, which benefits students, employers, and the state’s economy.

These new laws reflect a commitment to collaboration, transparency and accountability that is essential to prepare Texas students for the high-quality jobs that anchor the Texas economy.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Tony Bennett, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. The column appears in the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Bennett (pictured above) can be reached by email via: [email protected].

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  1. In summary, the war against education continues in Texas as students are trained for jobs rather than educated to be able to engage in critical and analytic thinking, to have meaningful awareness of the world around them, and to be able to function as an informed citizens able to expand their horizons. Instead, they are to be trained and programmed to be automatons in a machine that makes them highly susceptible to lies, distortions, asinine conspiracy theories, and ripe for manipulation by those whose objectives are to subordinate and dominate them. Contrary to those who want a submissive and easily controlled workforce that knows little outside of the work they have been trained and conditioned to do, education and career preparation are not mutually exclusive. However, the first task of any decent (real) education system should be to develop and expand the critical capacities of the mind, and to provide a basic foundation of knowledge of the world around us. One benefit of that might be, in 100 years when the world is gripped in a new pandemic, people will be knowledgable enough to differentiate between fact and damnable lies, will know how to take individual and collective action, and will understand the necessity of believing in science. In the process, they will not replicate the mistakes of the 1918 and 2020 pandemics, as we failed miserably to learn the lessons of the 1918 pandemic. In the process they will save the lives of 100’s of thousands of people in the process. Just one small benefit of an educated citizenry as opposed to one that only has been trained to (figuratively) “put the bolt through the hole, put the nut on the bold, tighten the nut dow” and repeat ad nauseam.