July 2, 2010
Thank you all for allowing me to speak with you today. It’s a real honor to stand up here before you, and I deeply appreciate the opportunity.
I’d also like to thank your president and my police chief, Art Acevedo. He’s a huge asset for this community, and I know he’s been just as great for your organization.
And finally, thank you all for everything you do. Just the slogan of this conference – “Meeting Public Safety Challenges in a Multicultural Society” – is a powerful acknowledgment of the social changes that now face law enforcement officers, policy makers, and anyone else who wants to make a positive difference in communities across this country. And I commend you – Texas commends you – for taking that on.
Because as you all know, there are no easy answers to the questions we face. A strike against immigration doesn’t stop with immigrants – it plays out instead across budgets and the economy in ways that affect everything from everyday workers to pension funds.
In the same way, something as deceptively specific as education policy trickles down on entrepreneurship and the tax base, welfare rolls and government deficits, police and prisons, and everything in between.
And, of course, in these areas and many others, it’s often our police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and state troopers who first confront the effects of these massive decisions.
Your group’s focus on Latino issues and communities makes your service additionally valuable. Because the issues you’re confronting right now at this conference – public safety challenges in a multicultural society – are the very issues that America is facing and will face for generations and decades to come.
Now, many of you have come here today from places far removed from Texas. But I suspect you’re also well aware of the transformation our state is facing – and the opportunities and challenges that transformation presents. I also suspect you know that your own communities and states will face many of these same dynamics.
And I’m certain that Texas’ experience, as we prepare for this transformation and respond to it – or, saidly, in some cases, fail to address it – will offer lessons that reach far beyond our borders.
I’ll put it this way: if American society faces a wave of challenges from multiculturalism, Texas sits at the crest of that wave.
In Texas, whites represented two-thirds of the population in 1980. They’re now less than 50 percent – so we are, right now, a majority-minority state.
Meanwhile, our Hispanic population – 21 percent three decades ago – now approaches 40 percent. And according to the Texas State Data Center, Texas Hispanics could be a majority in as few as 20 years.
Even more dramatically, minority children now constitute two-thirds of the public school children in Texas. Let me say that again: 66 percent of our K through 12 students in Texas’s public schools are Hispanic, African-American, Asian, or of another ethnicity.
Minority students make up about three-fourths of the students in Austin’s public schools. And as the Houston Chronicle reported last month, white children now make up less than 8 percent of the Houston ISD enrollment and less than 5 percent of the Dallas ISD enrollment.
As the Chronicle headline poignantly put it, if you don’t believe Texas’s shifting population numbers, you should visit a school.
On their face, those numbers shouldn’t be scary. They should be exciting. We’re talking about a young population, a diverse population, a legion of Texans with new ideas and new ways of conquering challenges and fixing problems.
This is what innovation looks like. This is the future. It’s nothing to fear. It’s something to embrace.
But we must embrace it. Our challenge is not – it is not – the changing complexion of Texas. Our challenge is how we prepare for what we know is coming.
Steve Murdock, our former state demographer who headed the U.S. Census Bureau under the last presidential administration, warns that unless our state changes course, 3 in 10 Texas workers will be looking for jobs without a high school education by 2040.
This is an immediate crisis – a clear and present danger – facing the state of Texas. You all know this better than most. Because if it’s an emergency when a child drops out of school, then you and your officers are the first responders.
According to a study by the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, at least 40,000, and perhaps up to 70,000 students, in the Class of 2012 will drop out before they reach graduation. Those personal tragedies, playing out tens of thousands of times in homes across Texas, will suck at least $5 billion out of the state’s economy.
That total includes between $600 million and $1 billion lost to crime and incarceration.
The Bush School’s study predicts that by increasing the graduation rate just 10 percentage points, we would see at least 7 percent fewer crimes, 8 percent fewer violent crimes, and 20 percent fewer murders and assaults.
All told, if we graduated every kid in the Class of 2012, there would be at least 19,000 fewer – and potentially 33,000 fewer – crimes in the state of Texas.
Such a goal – the perfection of a 100 percent graduation rate – isn’t necessarily realistic, I know. But it’s a goal, a serious and appropriate target to shoot for and work toward in the midst of an undeniably serious challenge.
Unfortunately, Texas is looking the other direction.
Now, counting dropouts is a tough business. As you may have heard, we’ve got a little Governor’s election coming up in November. And I think the debate over the state’s dropout rate – and by that, I mean, what the dropout rate even is – has been a little discouraging. I KNOW it must be been discouraging for our pre-school teachers who are trying to help our three- and four-year-olds learn simply to count.
As I said, the Bush School projects the range of dropouts to be 40,000 to 70,000 students.
There’s also the 2007 report by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, which estimates that more than 130,000 Texas students entering school as 9th graders fail to graduate with their classes.
And we know that Texas ranks 50th in the nation in the percentage of adults age 25 or older with a high school diploma.
One of the rosiest pictures, I’m sorry to say, might come from the current state budget.
If the budget that took effect last September hits its mark – if it meets its goals – the graduation rate will drop again in 2010 and 2011, and we can expect a 16 percent dropout rate each year.
Let’s assume that’s right. That means our budget – a moral document that unequivocally declares our priorities as a people – is shooting to simply limit the attrition in our schools and communities to no more than 45,000 kids. Per year.
That means that if the state achieves everything it hopes to in the budget, 90,000 kids – nearly the combined student populations of U.T. and A&M – will try to make it in this world without a high school diploma.
This is a terrifying vision for our economy. The Friedman Foundation report warns that our dropout problem costs the state $377 million every year in Medicaid obligations, prison costs, and lost tax revenue. And our former demographer, Dr. Murdock, forecasts that under current trends, the state’s average household income will be about $6,500 lower – NOT adjusting for inflation – in 2030 than it was in 2000.
But this is more than an economic catastrophe, though it’s certainly that. And it’s more than a personal tragedy. This is a law enforcement crisis.
We’re talking about a generation of people who will struggle to find work that offers real security, or that contributes to the Texas economy in a meaningful way.
And far too many of these people will evaluate the one equal-opportunity, eternally available, deceptively lucrative career path that, as you all know, is always open.
At that point, in a very concrete way, this problem will become your problem.
So what should we do about it?
That’s always the question, isn’t it?
How do we capture this wave of demographic destiny and direct it away from those rocks and toward a brighter horizon?
Look, there aren’t any easy answers here. Honestly, I think promises of easy answers and something-for-nothing solutions are a big reason why so many of our problems seem so huge and so difficult to solve.
Generations of politicians, from both sides, have pulled Americans away from the notions of hard choices and sacrifice. Too many campaigns have been built around the empty promise of easy greatness.
Well, greatness isn’t easy, and it isn’t a birthright. Even when it’s inherited, greatness still must be built upon, maintained, and zealously defended in the face of every threat – from without and within.
The path we must now follow isn’t a guaranteed, easy one. We know this, because it’s the one set out by our parents and grandparents. Their example – as with so many things – continues to guide us. Or, it should.
They were strong – holding this nation together through a Great Depression. They were brave – defending us against fascism, communism and bigotry. And they were imaginative and far-sighted – imprinting their greatness onto America through innovation, investment, and hard work.
For me, this last legacy – what they did when no one was watching, when the drama of crisis and war finally ended – is a fascinating part of what makes their generation the Greatest.
They had saved the United States of America over and over and over again. They had earned the right to take a break. They didn’t. They gave back the rest they’d earned, coming home instead to start families and build a nation that remains without equal.
Their contributions – to medicine, science, transportation, literature and every other field of human accomplishment – are far too numerous to count here today.
But I find enormous inspiration in their willingness, over and over again, to strive and sacrifice in ways that made this nation great. To strive and sacrifice so that those of us who followed them had the potential, the opportunity, the path to be great. If – if – we were willing to follow it.
Standing here today, I can’t write you a prescription for how we will meet “public safety challenges in a multi-cultural environment.” But, learning from our history, I think we all know some of the things we must do.
First, we must commit to an open, honest, transparent conversation about where we are, where we want and need to go, and what it will take to get there. This alone is no easy task.
Indeed, it would amount to a massive, ground-up intervention with many of the leaders who presided over the system that created these problems. And it simply cannot happen without pressure and support from groups that understand the stakes we’re facing – groups such as the National Latino Peace Officers Association.
You must be advocates. You have chosen a profession of service – and of sacrifice. You have the DNA that “gets it.” You nee to push the politicians to stop blabbering the political lines and dogmatic rhetoric. You should declare “¡Basta!” and show the way to talk about these issues.
Second, we’ve got to throw out the debt, diversions, delay, and other budget gimmicks that have made it so difficult to paper over these challenges without really slaying them. To do this, we need to leave everything on the table – everything except the deception and the excuses. If so-called solutions hold up for only a year or two, then they aren’t really solutions at all.
And third, we’ve got to be realistic about the environment you’re speaking of this week.
That environment is lined with challenges that are different from those we’ve faced in the past. It’s comprised of different faces than some are used to.
And it will punish all of us if we allow so-called “leaders” to shift the focus – away from the real problems we face, and toward the wedge issues that do nothing but score hollow political points.
In the world we live in, we simply can’t afford dangerous, divisive distractions. And today, one of the most ominous is the fight over immigration.
Much has been said about the Arizona law that shifted the nation’s focus away from the border security we need, left local law enforcement officers in impossible positions, and recklessly blurred the line between probable cause and rank bias.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, I hosted a screening of a documentary called “9500 Liberty,” which explored a resolution much like the Arizona law that was passed in Prince William County, Virginia – and the terrible effects it had on the community, the economy, local law enforcement, and the people who lived there. I was glad to have Chief Acevedo speak on a panel after the screening.
Obviously, the Chief and I have deep concerns about laws such as these and the impact they would have on everyone, wherever they take effect.
But in terms of the challenge before us today – “Meeting Public Safety Challenges in a Multicultural Society” – one of the biggest problems with the Arizona law is that it does little but drive people apart at the very moment they need to come together.
The time has come – in fact, it’s long past – for us to be as brave as our parents and grandparents. It’s time to coalesce around the challenges and opportunities we face and find the solutions to address them.
It’s time to elect and empower new leaders who can put aside slogans, explore the widest range of solutions, and find ways to implement the most promising innovations.
It’s time to find – in ourselves and each other – the bravery we need to re-take the path to greatness.
Because nothing and no one can accomplish anything great through short cuts – not a child, not a cop, and certainly not a state or a nation. True greatness requires real work.
We need to campaign for it. We have to prove we really believe in it.
And we must rebuke the politicians who doubt our conviction.
This is what we saw in our parents and grandparents. It’s what we owe to our children and grandchildren. And it’s what it means to be a citizen: to leave our states and our nation in even better shape than we found them in, and to pass on an inheritance as great as the one we received.
Thank you. Thank you for doing the work and fighting the fight for America’s greatness. Please be safe in your important jobs. God bless you, God bless Texas, and God Bless the United States of America.