We can't afford to let up on education

Photo by Spencer Selvidge

Education is the force that propels us to success, both as individuals and as a state. Our status as the epicenter for job creation in the United States is owed in no small part to our dedication to stronger, more accountable schools and taking steps to see more students graduate ready for college or career.

Some new numbers indicate our lofty standards are paying great dividends.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, Texas is second in the nation in its graduation rate, with 88 percent — nearly nine out of 10 students — in the class of 2012 receiving their diplomas. (Only Iowa did better, at 89 percent.)

Texas’ graduation rate is 8 points higher than the national average, and if you drill down, it becomes even more impressive. African-Americans are graduating at the highest rate in the country, and Hispanics are graduating at the second-highest rate.

While there are always ways to improve, our state has shown dramatic progress over the past decade.

For instance, our high school graduates are thinking more and more about college. Participation in college readiness exams has surged, with 49 percent more students taking the SAT in 2013 than in 2000, and the number of students taking the ACT up 62 percent over that span.

Those are all great numbers, but why are they so important?

They indicate that the students of Texas understand the value of a good education. They realize that school is a path to a more satisfying career and a better quality of life.

Whether or not you currently have a child in school in Texas, the quality of our educational system is important to you and critical to the future of our state. When I talk to a business owner who’s thinking of relocating to our state, I tout our low taxes, fair courts and reasonable regulations. But none of those things would swing the balance if Texas didn’t have the skilled workers to fill that employer’s needs.

Employers like Toyota, Apple and Samsung could have gone anywhere in the world, and yet they chose Texas. That says something, as does the fact that nearly three out of every 10 jobs created in the United States over the past decade have been created right here in Texas.

Of course, we’re not done. Last year, I signed into law legislation giving students more flexibility in their curriculum while maintaining our rigorous standards. We improved the way students can achieve technical certification. We enhanced student options by providing for the expansion of the number of public charter schools, and improved opportunities for part-time or full-time study online through the Texas Virtual School Network.

We did all this with our focus on one specific goal: ensuring every student willing to work hard will graduate ready to go on to college or start their career.

We’ve also worked to ensure that those who want a college degree don’t have to take on massive debt to get one. In 2011, I challenged our institutions of higher education to create degree programs that cost no more than $10,000. Schools have risen to that challenge, with 13 schools so far implementing low-cost degrees.

Texas is truly a land blessed by opportunity. It’s a place where innovators can take an idea from the laboratory to the marketplace. It’s a place where children, no matter what their background, can dream of a better life for themselves and their families. It’s a place where a man like Wallace Jefferson, a descendant of a slave sold on the steps of his county courthouse, could serve nine years as the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

We can’t afford to let up. Each generation builds upon the one that preceded it. While we have made great strides, we must continue to work together so that current and future students have the opportunities that will allow them and our state to thrive for decades to come.

Rick Perry

Governor of Texas