September 14, 2009
There’s been a lot going on around here.
You may have noticed that the Democratic National Committee held its annual meeting in Austin late last week and into the weekend. It was a big event for the Party. But the media totally missed the biggest, most obvious headline describing the ability and success of Democrats:
“Democrats bring needed rain.”
And over Labor Day weekend, the Baylor Bears won on the road for the first time since ’07 (that’s 2007, not 1907). The Bears didn’t play this past weekend, so they remain undefeated – which may not seem that impressive two weeks into the season, unless you’re from Oklahoma.
Of course, nationally, it was a far more important, far more serious week.
Friday was September 11th, the eighth anniversary of the worst attack on our nation in most of our lifetimes. Across the country and in Central Texas, people rightly took time out to remember the terror – and to honor the heroism – we witnessed that day.
I was honored to speak at the annual meeting of the Greater Austin Crime Commission, which comes together every year on that day to remember September 11th, and consider what lessons to take from it.
Excerpts of my prepared remarks are below; you can read them in their entirety here.
For many of us who weren’t there, who were too young or too sheltered from the horrors that only ever happened in other places, President Roosevelt’s famous phrase about December 7, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy” – might once have seemed a little hard to grasp.
A great many Americans who went to bed on September 10, 2001 – too many of us – didn’t fully comprehend the overwhelming damage, anger, and horrible vulnerability that, as we now know, are bound up in that essence of infamy.
So here we are on September 11, 2009, eight years after our time’s own infamous day. No one wonders anymore what President Roosevelt meant, because today is nothing like any other day – it shouldn’t be. It can’t be. …
Above all else, this day pushes every one of us into the flow of our nation’s history. Eight years ago, we saw and experienced our fellow Americans’ sacrifice, heroism, generosity, pride, strength, and unity. These values are the mortar that previous generations used to build this nation.
So, in considering this day, these values, the historical enormity of September 11th and the still smoldering pain we share, we should look to the experience of those who came before us. We should look to our parents and grandparents. For as we think about what this day will mean eight and eighty years from now, their example – as with so many things – continues to guide us.
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. …
As we carve our own generation’s path from peril to prosperity, and as groups such as the Greater Austin Crime Commission seek out every tool to keep our region safe, we should take time – on this day – to consider an important inheritance we’ve taken from our parents and grandparents. And as we do, we should evaluate what we ourselves have created, what we’re going to leave behind, and whether our own children and grandchildren will know as much, think as well, and be as prepared for their world as we were for ours. …
So, how do we best emulate those who came before us? … I believe in my bones that the answer – the most powerful vehicle the Greatest Generation had and this aspiring generation has – is a good education. But I fear the educational fabric of our state has become worn. I fear we are not living up to what has been passed down to us. And failure in this regard will cause us to fail in the mission we all share. …
Texas’ commitment to education reaches all the way back to its creation. … However, despite all of that history, the state didn’t truly and comprehensively fund Texas schools until – yes – shortly after World War II.
In 1949, the legislature passed the Gilmer-Aiken law – creating the framework for our modern school finance system with a new commitment to support schools in a more equitable way. The bill enshrined a generation’s pledge to make sure that more Texas children would know prosperity than the generation before.
This, to me, was more than a law. It was a hard-fought act of sacrifice, heroism, generosity, pride, strength, and unity – all of those values we honor … especially on this day.
And today, September 11, as we consider where we’ve come over the past eight years, where we want to go, and the example our parents and grandparents have left us, it’s appropriate to ask why these values now seem so rare – particularly with regard to how we teach our children. …
According to a study by the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, 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 $5 billion to $10 billion out of the state’s economy.
That total includes between $600 million and $1 billion lost to crime and incarceration. By increasing the graduation rate just 10 percentage points, according to researchers, we would see at least 7 percent fewer crimes, 8 percent fewer violent crimes, 20 percent fewer murders and assaults, and 13 percent fewer motor vehicle crimes.
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 target to shoot for and work toward in the midst of an undeniably serious challenge.
Unfortunately, the state is moving the other direction. I’ve already mentioned where we stand on high school graduates. And Texas’ graduation rate likely dropped this year.
If the state budget that took effect last week hits its mark – if it meets its goals – the graduation rate will drop again in 2010 and 2011.
The statistics reveal that we can expect a 16 percent dropout rate, each year of this biennium.
That’s more than 45,000 kids. Per year.
That means that if the state does everything it hopes to accomplish in the budget, well over 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. …
It’s time for all of us to rise above the politics of promising something-for-nothing.
If we care about our kids and the future of Texas, if we care about our state’s health and public safety, and if we’re better than those who would trade our long-term future for their short-term bottom line, then we must come together, tell the truth, stop pandering, and follow the example of earlier generations.
Nothing and no one can accomplish anything great through short cuts – not a child, and certainly not a state or a nation. Our mission must be to create a system that allows all children to work productively and live prosperously in the 21st Century economy. …
This is what we saw in our parents and grandparents. This is what we learned, and must re-learn, from the trauma of September 11th. This is what it means to be a citizen: to leave Texas better than we found it, and to pass on an inheritance as great as the one we received.
The next generation is upon us. Since 9-11, in just eight years, about 33 million new Americans have been born. A population almost 50 percent bigger than all of Texas wasn’t even alive on September 11th, and the oldest of these children just started third grade.
What will that day of infamy mean for them?
How will they remember us?
Thank you. Thank you for all the good you do. God bless you, God bless Texas, and God Bless the United States of America.