Official: Workforce lacks education for Texas jobs

The Associated Press
Jan. 17, 2013

The head of the state’s largest business lobbying group testified during the school finance trial Thursday that poor schooling in Texas has left many of the state’s firms without enough qualified applicants to fill job vacancies.

Bill Hammond is head of the Texas Association of Business, which has joined a group of conservative activists and former state officeholders in arguing that pouring more state funding into public schools won’t improve classroom learning because the underlying way Texas funds education has become too inefficient.

Hammond told the court that many Texas businesses can’t fill job vacancies because applicants lack basic academic skills — even after graduating from high school.

“This is very widespread,” he said. “Texas businesses are unable to hire enough workers, which hurts their productivity and diminishes their profits.”

Hammond said that only 25 percent of high school graduates are career or college-ready. If you start with ninth graders and follow them over four years, only 16 percent of that cohort make it to graduation and are career or college-ready, he said. Hammond said those statistics came from the Texas Education Agency, and were based on student scores on standardized tests.

More than 600 school districts across Texas have sued the state, claiming that $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and grant programs imposed by the Legislature in 2011 have made funding for schools so inadequate and inequitable that it violates the Texas Constitution.

The trial began in October before Austin-based state District Judge John Dietz. As the case reaches its final stages, the court is hearing testimony from experts called by a group known as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equality in Education.

Rather than argue that schools are underfunded, the group says pouring more money into public education may not improve classroom learning if the overall system is flawed.

Organized by Kent Grusendorf, the former head of the Texas House Public Education Committee, the group, known as TREE, agrees with school districts that the way Texas now funds its schools is unconstitutional. But it argues that’s because an abundance of state mandates and a lack of competition have made the system inefficient.

Hammond’s group has been a vocal supporter of more-difficult standardized tests, which it says are the only way to ensure Texas students are adequately prepared for the jobs of the future.

But he told the court Thursday that unless the quality of learning changes, businesses won’t be able to fill orders because they won’t have the necessary workers and will be forced to leave Texas.

“This is a looming crisis because of our aging workforce,” Hammond said. “… We will lose our tax base; we will lose our future. It would be devastating.”

Under cross-examination, Hammond was asked if Texas can put off dealing with the problem.

“It must be fixed right now,” he replied.