Texas Lawmakers Make Unmatched Progress on Schooling-to-Workforce Alignment

While the budget, pandemic, and the aftermath of the Uri winter storm dominated much of the recent legislature, legislators made unmatched strides on questions related to aligning education with the labor market that will have long-term benefits for Texan students, employers, and the economy.

Several new policies will ensure that students have access to the educational opportunities needed for the Texas job market. Developing high quality human resource development programs requires collaboration between employers, high schools, and community and technical colleges. Bill by Rep. Keith Bell promotes this goal by creating a new advisory board of business, teachers and community colleges to develop industry-based certifications to prepare students for current and future staffing needs.

A Public School Funding Bill by Rep. Dan Huberty improves Formula Funding for Vocational and Technical Education (CTE) to better align “study programs” to ensure students are prepared for in-demand, high-paying careers. The new formulas reward school districts for offering CTE courses and pay a higher reimbursement rate. Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s bill adds a performance indicator to the public school accountability system when students complete a program of study through high school.

For employers who wish to work with college partners to meet specific needs, a public parish or junior college has the “privilege of denial” to meet those needs under a Bill by Rep. John Raney. If the community college is unwilling or unable, employers can now invite competing colleges or personnel training providers to work with them. This new law could be a real turning point for companies or industries in underserved communities.

Bill by Rep. Murphy will make the Tri-Agency Initiative, a joint effort of the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, permanent. These agencies will work together to identify nationwide workforce goals and career paths for occupations that are aligned with current needs and projected high-growth careers. The agencies will also evaluate vocational education and training programs based on program participants’ outcomes to ensure transparency and accountability in government staff spending.

The three agencies are creating tools that will enable average Texans to evaluate HR programs, build a platform to educate students about jobs and earning opportunities, and create a public dashboard that tracks the state’s progress in meeting its HR development goals. An initiative by Rep. JM Lozano is asking the three government agencies to develop a framework to encourage work-based learning opportunities such as internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training.

In response to the pandemic and rising unemployment, calls have been made for retraining and upgrading the state workforce so that Texans can return to high-demand jobs and accelerate our economic recovery. A bill by Senator Brandon Creighton creates the Texas Re-skilling and Up-skilling through Education (TRUE) initiative to support the training of public junior colleges. Funding for competitive grants is likely to be discussed during a special session this fall to provide $ 16 billion in federal aid.

Senator Larry Taylor penned a bill that uses the Texas Commission on Community College Finance to examine government funding for public community and junior colleges. The commission will make recommendations for establishing a government funding formula and sufficient funding level to maintain viable education and training opportunities at community colleges across Texas.

Ultimately, lawmakers funded the Texas State Technical College’s “Returned Value Funding Formula”, which the institution pays based on the income of its graduates, not hours in the classroom. The system rewards high quality technical education, employability and job placement that benefits students, employers and the state economy.

These new laws reflect the commitment to collaboration, transparency and accountability that are essential in preparing Texan students for the quality jobs that anchor the Texan economy.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was written by Tony Bennett, President and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers. The column appears on the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Bennett (picture above) can be reached by email at: [email protected].

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