Our nation’s greatest periods of growth have resulted from expanded educational opportunity that helped foster scientific breakthroughs that made products and processes faster, cheaper, and of better quality. The combination made America the most productive economy in the 20th Century.

Investment in expanded educational opportunities is crucial for the continued prosperity and innovation of the border region.  The border lags behind the rest of Texas in educational attainment. Twenty percent of all border residents age 25 or older have fewer than nine years of schooling. Only 11 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 6 percent have a post-graduate degree. Meanwhile, a fast growing unskilled labor force, coupled with limited job opportunities, contributes to high unemployment and lower wages throughout the region.

In order for the Texas border economy to continue to grow, our workforce must be prepared for the jobs of the future. Businesses cannot function without quality workers. At the same time, individuals without marketable skills will find it increasingly difficult to find and keep quality jobs. Educational attainment is a primary aspect of being prepared for a job, but there are other considerations.

Higher education and having a degree translate into better pay and a lower likelihood of being unemployed. Not all well-paying jobs require degrees, though nearly all require knowledge or skills.

TBC supports education and workforce training at every level, from traditional K-12 public education, certification programs, adult basic education, and expanded higher education opportunities along the border.

TBC supports an equitable and adequate school finance system that provides public school districts in the border region fair and equal access to Texas’ resources, while recognizing real cost differences among students and districts.

TBC supports reform and full funding for adult basic education (ABE) programs. TBC also supports improved connectivity between public education and career training programs, such as aligning public education with career and technical education programs, and enhancing job-training partnerships between public school districts and community colleges. We oppose efforts to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students.

Workforce preparedness is a multi-faceted challenge, and ensuring that border residents are receiving the knowledge and skills they need will benefit individuals, business and the border region as a whole.

For years, Texas has battled to find a school finance system that equitably funds all public schools in wealthy and poor communities. The reliance on local property taxes for the majority of public school funding strains communities with low property values—including border counties. In 2006, the Legislature reformed the public school finance system, which aimed to provide a general diffusion of knowledge through an efficient system of public schools.

Because property wealth is not evenly distributed across the geography of the state, some school districts have the advantage of using a lower tax rate to generate revenue from a relatively large tax base. However, school districts with relatively low taxable property values must tax their residents at a higher rate to generate the same amount of revenue. In essence districts with relatively large tax bases are property-wealthy, relative to most border school districts that do not have as large a tax base. This has led to some property-wealthy school districts being able to provide a more comprehensive and rigorous education for their students than other school districts.

About 80 percent of border county students are economically disadvantaged. Different parts of the border region have their own unique problems, but share high rates of students who need extra instruction to become proficient in English and populations with low graduation rates from high school. This combination of factors means that border areas have the lowest literacy levels as measured by the U.S. Department of Education survey.

By strengthening workforce training and public education for the border workforce, Texas can invest in our state’s continued prosperity and innovation. With a comprehensive plan of action to provide local education and workforce leaders the resources necessary to take advantage of these opportunities, the border and Texas economy can grow and create jobs for our people.

Editor’s Note: The above essay is the fourth in a four-part series focusing on a new 20-page policy paper issued by the Texas Border Coalition. It is titled, “Policies and Proposals by the Texas Border Coalition to Advance a North American Century.” Part Four focuses on Workforce Training and Education (above), Health and Economic Development. Click here to read the Health essay. Click here to read the Economic Development essay.

The Rio Grande Guardian has been granted exclusive rights to first publish the policy paper. Click here to read Part One, titled “Texas Border Coalition: How North America can command the 21st Century.” Click here to read Part Two, titled “Texas Border Coalition: A North American Agenda.” Click here (Border Security) and here (Transportation) to read Part Three.