Each year, I’m amazed by the innovation and creativity on display at SXSW. For one month, Austin becomes a collaborative incubator, fostering technological advancement at every turn. It’s no wonder that some of today’s largest tech brands, including Twitter and Foursquare, were successfully launched at the event.
But despite all of the inventiveness that takes place in March, these newly-formed companies too often leave for Silicon Valley instead of considering Texas a place to grow a technology startup. Our state should be setting an example to the nation with the capacity and commitment to develop a diverse workforce ready to enter these highly skilled tech jobs.
Education is the linchpin to developing an environment where students are challenged to pursue advanced coursework — studies that put them on a path to future success and ready them to join the ranks of the next exciting STEM venture. In recent years, Texas has made a bipartisan commitment to expanding access to Advanced Placement (AP) and other challenging STEM coursework.
AP courses play an important role in preparing students for college and career success. Students who succeed in AP exams are more likely to succeed in college, and to save time and money through placement and credit-granting policies. Texas student success on AP exams — earning a score of 3, 4, or 5 — represented a combined tuition savings for families of nearly $240 million in 2016.
Research shows that students who take AP mathematics and science are more likely than non-AP students to earn degrees in physical science, engineering and life science. Encouraging students to pursue college-level work reaps tremendous economic returns for Texas.
That’s why we should be concerned that the Legislature is considering cutting support for AP students and educators in its budget for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. Contained within the proposal is a 10 percent cut to the Advanced Placement Incentive Program, which covers AP exam fees for low-income students and invests in professional development for teachers.
These potential cuts come at a time when Texas has been a national leader in achieving equitable participation for low-income students, according to the College Board. Over the past decade, the number of low-income students in Texas participating in AP exams has tripled, and the number of AP exams taken by these same students that scored a 3 or higher has quadrupled. These successes are not isolated to one student demographic, but rather all of Texas’ public school students who took an AP exam in 2016.
These achievements are something both Republicans and Democrats should applaud, instead of putting the program’s funds at risk.
If the proposed budget cuts of $850,000 are realized, nearly 1,900 teachers each year will lose access to the professional development and training that enables them to teach AP courses. Without this teacher training, high schools across the state can’t offer more AP courses at a time when demand for AP classes, notably STEM, is growing.
Rather than cutting a program with proven outcomes for students, fully funding AP will enable Texas to expand access to STEM courses. In return, we can expect more homegrown STEM success stories — including future SXSW participants.
As a former commissioner of education, I’ve seen the transformation that comes from equitable access to opportunities. As a parent, I’ve seen the value of the AP program. My own children were able to earn college credits while in high school, enabling them to graduate college early. This happens across the state and nation with a considerable savings to families. I firmly believe this opportunity should be afforded to all students regardless of zip code or family income.
Our state’s students deserve every chance to pursue college and career readiness courses that will yield a strong return on investment for Texas in the future. Innovation should be embraced, and the AP Incentive Program can foster this environment year-round if properly funded.