Protecting summers is good for Texas

As the state of Texas works towards improving public education, school districts should have autonomy to make decisions that impact their specific learning communities, as they are ultimately responsible for the outcomes. That being said, we know that education and workforce development are some of the most important issues facing our state and impact every industry.

One critical component for a student’s future success is skills and workforce development. As a life-long educator and advocate for youth, I’m all too aware of the increasing burden our teachers face, with crowded classrooms, limited resources and regular cuts to programs that teach necessary skills.

Those ongoing cuts make first jobs all the more essential to the development of our future leaders.

I’ve seen first-hand the value of a summer job and what it does for a student’s self-esteem, thirst to work and knowledge of various careers. As the co-founder of a successful public charter school that targeted working-class students, I worked with companies from across San Antonio to develop a summer jobs program for at-risk students. At the same time, we partnered with local credit unions to provide our students with financial literacy training to help instill in them good habits that would last for their lifetimes.

Many of our students earned money so they could be the first in their family to attend college, and many helped their families with monthly bills. It’s simply not possible to describe the overwhelming sense of pride and dignity students experience when they hold that first paycheck in their hands.

But these valuable skills are becoming less and less available to our students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 25 percent of the nation’s 16- to 19-year-olds were in the workforce in 2013, compared with 45 percent in 2000. In fact, that number has been on the decline since 1979, when 71.8 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds had jobs.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, finding a job when you’re older is harder if you never worked during your teenage years.

Simply put, the jobs that you and I relied on to teach us the skills that furthered us and our careers are becoming increasingly scarce for our own children. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this decline, and one of the most prominent is the challenge of the shrinking summer.

In 2007, Texas established the 4th Monday in August as the statewide school start date. But over the past few years, I’ve watched as school districts have capitalized on “district of innovation” exemptions that allow districts across the state to start their academic year whenever they want. This ambiguity has led to a wealth of problems for Texas businesses and the students they employ.

According to a July 2018 report by the Texas Education Agency, more than 782 schools across the state have requested and received school start date exemptions. By comparison, only 352 have requested class size exemptions.

When the largest schools in Dallas and Houston establish an early- to mid-August school start date, companies in San Antonio and New Braunfels are detrimentally affected. And in turn, students from across our own community go jobless as a result.

Some might argue that a school start date is an issue of local control. But I would challenge that: When decisions made by a few schools in Dallas and Houston impact businesses across the entire state, it is no longer local control, but is a significant statewide economic issue.

Educators will tell you they need an early school start date to help our students prepare for testing. But since the 4th Monday in August school start date was implemented in 2007, student test scores and grades have remained steady. There has been no tangible correlation between moving up the school start date and improvement of test scores or college preparedness.

As we enter the final weeks of the 86th Legislature’s regular session, I call on my fellow lawmakers and educators across the state to look back to their own teenage years and reflect on the importance and value of their first summer jobs and the direct impact those had on their own college preparedness and future careers. 

Education is the platform that we give our children to launch their lives and their careers. But summer jobs provide them the skills necessary to bridge the gap between book learning and entering the workforce.

A+ Texas: A coalition of families and business owners focused on securing a consistent school start date in September that supports the Texas economy and restores family time for all Texans.