February 14, 2008
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. You’re doing so much to lay the groundwork for Texas’ prosperity in the 21st Century.
The secret, which you all know as well as I do, is opportunity. The opportunity you are creating will make a difference not only in untold millions of lives, but also will chart the future of Texas.
Our challenge is as clear as our growth and our demographics. In the next 30 years, Texas’ population is expected to grow by 30 million. Almost all of that increase will come from groups that today are lumped together as “minorities.”
I’m a big believer in throwing away labels — the shallow designations that help people ignore what others have to say or contribute. But none is as disposable as that word, “Minority.”
By 2020 – just a dozen years – Hispanics will become the largest demographic group in the state. And by 2040, Hispanics will be our majority.
This isn’t just a large and growing population – it’s a young one. In the last census, the median age of Texas Hispanics was 25 and a half. For whites, it was 38.
This growth — this youth — is great, great news for the state of Texas and anyone who cares about its future.
But it we can’t just sit back and watch this growth, governing like we always have and hoping for the best.
We have got to re-evaluate – from top to bottom – where we’re putting our resources in this state. We have to redirect our resources into investments that will provide opportunity in the next century for Texas and Texans. We have to take a realistic look at what it will mean to be Texan in the 21st Century, and we must make sure we’re doing all we can to pass on the prosperity we’ve inherited.
Our new challenge is as unique and modern as this century. It speaks to the challenges of our parents and grandparents — the obstacles they overcame, the laws they overturned — while lifting everyone to a new level of opportunity.
We must fulfill the drive for equality with the promise of prosperity.
And as you all know, this movement must start in our schools and universities. The challenge was once over unfair laws. Now, it’s time to take on those who write unfair budgets.
Opportunity meets its fullest potential the day someone graduates from college. You all know the statistic about the million more dollars that people earn over a lifetime when they have a degree from a college or university. A million dollars. That’s a big number. A powerful number.
But that’s only part of the benefit. Those higher education degrees can offer their holders the freedom to seek out jobs they want, not just the ones they can find. They tap into the unique qualities that absolutely every person brings to the world, whether it’s engineering or teaching or writing or making music or designing video games or running companies.
These degrees are where students become entrepreneurs. They are the seeds and catalysts of innovation. They are the embodiment of opportunity — hope for a happier, richer life.
And as new products are developed, new businesses are started, and new technologies are discovered, Texas profits from this success as much as the individuals who achieve it.
You all, as much as anyone in the state, sit at this crossroads of demographics and opportunity. The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education has made it a mission to spread hope among the very population that represents Texas’ future and that must become an economic powerhouse in this century if any of us are going to enjoy any sort of prosperity.
You also know many of the obvious steps we need to take. We have only two major research universities, and too few seats at these institutions that previous generations were wise enough to create. We need more.
We have done little to support the vital scholarship programs that open the path to college for so many Texans. We need to do more.
We also have a school system that too often restricts students’ opportunity based on their parents’ address, income, and work schedules. We need to do better.
But one of the best things we can do to get more Chicanos, Latinos and Latinas into Higher Education is to take up this effort a long time before they start applying. It begins way before high school, middle school and even grade school.
We have got to get to our children as early as we can and start preparing them for this relatively miniscule period — these 13 years between Kindergarten and Graduation — that determines so much of what comes afterward.
We have to make it a goal of all Texans to offer pre-kindergarten programs that are universal, public, full-day, and free.
These programs must be open to all. They must employ certified teachers. And they must provide the activities that engage the unbelievable development potential of 4- and 5-year-olds.
If education is the foundation for opportunity, then universal Pre-K programs are the foundation for education. It is the most obvious, cost-effective, socially responsible and prudent sort of economic development and educational investment we can make, and it is past time for Texas to embrace the opportunity.
As we prepare our students to pursue the education they’ll need to succeed in the 21st Century economy, we also must prepare our educational system to provide it to them.
I believe that preparation starts with raising our Higher Education system to the level that this economy demands.
The status quo, which nearly everyone agrees is unacceptable, will become only more of a burden going forward. Without a significant investment in education — and particularly higher education — over the next generation, the average Texas household will earn $6,500 less in 2040 than it does now, and even less than that after you adjust for inflation.
This is a threat to individual opportunity, to be sure. But it’s also a real danger to Texas. Unless educational achievement improves – leading to better paying jobs for more current and future Texans – tax revenues will fall even as demands for health care, schools, social services and, unfortunately, prisons increase.
Now, some people — many of them in leadership positions at the Capitol — will tell you that right now, we’re probably doing OK economically. They’ll cherry-pick statistics to paint a bright, beautiful picture, and use it as an excuse to do nothing about expanding or even maintaining access to colleges and universities.
This hands-off, “no-new-investments” approach mortgages our future for the moment, our children for their something-for-nothing promises. And it doesn’t take a meteorologist to see the storm on the horizon.
The simple truth is that in 1985, the state paid 55 percent of its the higher education costs. In 2006, that was down to 35 percent. The rest comes from a number of sources including, increasingly, tuition.
Furthermore, just 26 percent of Texans aged 25-65 have made it as far as a bachelor’s degree. For that matter, Texas ranks dead last in the percentage of population over 25 with even a high school diploma.
There’s no question that we can do better. I think even those who’ve presided over these declines would agree with that.
The question is, should we? Is it worth the cost, the time, and the effort to invest in higher education and prepare for everything that we know is
I would argue that we have no choice. But it’s not hard to.
The success of our higher education system was built on the millions of acres that were set aside in Texas’ earliest days to support it. Generations that followed re-invested in the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and other universities, creating not just world-class institutions but also a pipeline to replenish our leaders and intellectual resources.
Even today, economists estimate that every dollar invested in higher education puts at least another 5 to 7 dollars into the economy. Let me repeat that – every dollar that goes into Texas’ colleges and universities is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce a 500 to 700 percent return.
No one who knows Austin, who has seen the dramatic growth and prosperity that have re-shaped this sleepy college town into a global technology hub, can possibly doubt the transformative power of higher education and our investment in it.
This power represents the single greatest hope for the future of Texas and Texans.
The shame will be on us if we let this power, and this hope, slip away.
Instead, we must come together and commit to the opportunity that our children expect and our state demands. One of the first, most obvious steps should be an increase in grants and scholarships so more and more students and families can focus on working to get a college education, not worrying about whether they can afford it.
Last year, I co-authored a bill that would have made this obvious investment. SB 1176 would have dedicated $897 million for the TEXAS Grant program, ensuring that every eligible Texas student has a chance to go to college.
Unfortunately, this bill did not pass.
Its failure demonstrates the philosophical difference between all of us and the Legislative Leadership. We have had a $14 billion budget surplus. Not only that, but the Leadership stowed $2.4 billion in little more than a mattress on the assumption that the so-called great Property Tax Reduction of 2006 will turn into the very real great Budget Crisis of 2009.
I call it the Fear Fund — $2.4 billion that could be going to universities, schools, scholarships, roads, and any number of other priorities, but instead is sitting in a bank account, earning interest and waiting for promises to fail.
The state must cast fear aside, take a responsible look at its spending, and bring more students into universities. It also must target the Texans who in the past may have lacked the opportunity that others have enjoyed, but who now represent the very future of this state and its economy.
We also must ensure that there will be enough seats at top-tier research universities for these students to learn.
Right now, Texas has only two true “flagship” universities, each of them bursting at the seams. The state has a growing population, a growing economy, and a growing need for creative, college-educated workers. We can’t survive without a growing number of classrooms and professors.
Last session I sponsored and passed a bill that would have created a plan for establishing additional flagship universities in Texas.
The Governor, I’m sorry to say, vetoed the bill. But separately, the Lt. Governor has called for a similar study, as well as a long-term strategy for creating and supporting new institutions, especially additional flagship public research universities.
I believe this charge to the Legislature demonstrates the growing sense that Texas must be hopeful enough to build new universities, knowing there will be students to fill them, and improve existing ones, knowing the investment will pay off in ways we can hardly imagine.
We know our future. We know that the face of Texas is changing. It’s time for our investments to change with it.
And this doesn’t mean wagging our fingers, rehearsing empty platitudes, blaming their parents, or threatening to shut down their schools.
Nor does it mean recklessly throwing money at a system that needs repairs along with investment.
It means being smart and sincere. It means being energetic and creative.
And it means providing hope.
I love the fact that this word — “hope” — has entered the nation’s political lexicon. It’s something that’s been missing from our priorities and policies for far too long. It speaks to what people can achieve, the potential that we turn into opportunity, that we then turn into a meaningful life.
I say it often, and I’ll say it again: hope matters. But, in this area, for this mission, hope matters most of all.
Parents must be so hopeful for the possibility of higher education that they will help their children prepare for it without fear of another closing door.
Children must be so hopeful that they will work for this goal knowing that if they try hard enough, they will reach it, and it will make a difference.
Schools must be hopeful enough that they will develop these young minds, knowing the efforts of teachers and students will not be in vain.
These are bold goals, but we can achieve them. We know that because of our constitution, which unequivocally declares the right to an education. We know that because of all the faith and resources that our predecessors poured into our generation through our colleges and universities. And we know that because of all the millions of people who have come to Texas, despite considerable hardships or uncertainty, because of the opportunity it promises.
Those people are our future. Education is that opportunity. Let’s seize it, right now.
Thank you, and God bless you.