Toyota's recent decision to locate its new U.S. headquarters in Plano provoked Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to make a public statement of his disappointment with the Dallas Independent School District. He readily admitted that some Dallas ISD schools are high performing but stated that "corporate America wants consistency," continuing to cite ill pre-prepared graduates as the norm at many Dallas ISD campuses.
His message was clear. Successful schools are of critical importance to business, particularly when one is considering geographic options for expansion. An education system that produces a well-equipped pipeline of human capital will ensure that the business, and in turn, the local economy, will flourish. In fact, studies show that more than half of a region's economic prosperity is tied to the educational attainment of its residents.
The bottom line for business, both literally and figuratively, is that their employees possess the necessary skills to successfully function in the workplace. They also need to be ensured that there is a healthy supply of talent being developed to sustain that very workplace. While there are numerous other factors that play into a company's decision to locate or stay in a particular city or region, school quality and the educational attainment level of the population is certainly at the top of the list.
While Texas continues to lead the nation in high school graduation rates, there has been a growing concern that our state is not doing what is necessary to ensure that our young people are prepared for life after high school. Changing demographics and socioeconomics are major factors to consider. The student population of the state and of our region is becoming majority Hispanic and more and more of our students, regardless of ethnicity, are considered economically disadvantaged (defined by eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals). In Smith County in 1990, 30 percent of students were eligible. Today, it is more than 60 percent.
In my May column, I referenced the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study about post-secondary enrollment and completion. While the completion rate was noted at 19 percent for all students, it is less than 10 percent for both Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Considering that 60 to 65 percent of jobs will require education beyond high school by the year 2020, the opportunity is now greater than ever.
Texas House Bill 5 is said to be the greatest overhaul in public education in decades and is a giant leap toward getting our state on the right track. By focusing high school students toward an endorsement — public services, business and industry, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), arts and humanities or multidisciplinary studies — we are getting each and every student further down the path to a successful career.
School districts can offer many pathways in the endorsements they choose. Tyler ISD is set to offer more than 30, including health science, welding, law enforcement, energy and pre-law in their new Career and Technical Education Center. The focus will be on aligning the offerings with workforce demands in our region. Many of these pathways include dual credit courses or even opportunities for the students to earn a workforce certificate or professional license while in high school.
However, our schools cannot do it alone. It took a major cross-sector effort to ensure the passage of House Bill 5, and it will take continual collaboration to keep the momentum going for the good of all kids in our community.
The Business Education Council was formed to offer the forum for this type of collaboration. Throughout the first year of operations, the council identified numerous ways to engage in education, by supporting the new strategic plans of our city and school district, serving on advisory boards and initiating efforts to elevate the importance of post-secondary education. In my next column, I will highlight one such effort that is underway — increasing the number of internships available to high school students. I hope you will continue to read about ways that we are putting education to work.
Christi Khalaf is the executive director of the Tyler Area Business Education Council, an initiative of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column will appear monthly in the Learning section.