By Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Texas, it’s time we do the right thing for Texas kids and Texas families. I have always supported empowering Texas parents to make the best decisions for their children. This session, our legislators have an opportunity to do the right thing for Texas kids and families.
Despite a history of school choice opposition in Texas, we can now look to evidence of success from states across America. The results are overwhelming and positive, showing that empowering parents and expanding options leads examples of teacher-led innovation, parent-driven accountability, and steadily improving outcomes.
Texas education is at a crossroads, especially in rural communities. Fortunately, the Texas Legislature has a chance to help guide us in the right direction though parent empowerment, allowing families to choose the best educational options for their children. That includes career and technical training (CTE).
Polls show that parents are worried their children aren’t graduating high school with the tools they need to succeed. When asked if they’re concerned students in their area are not ready to successfully enter the workforce, 69% said they’re concerned, compared to only 27% who said they’re unconcerned.
Better aligning career and technical education with regional workforce demand will strengthen rural communities and local economies. CTE funding for students should also be made portable to support multiple pathways at multiple institutions if a student’s school does not provide a program of study the student is interested in pursuing.
The Lone Star State’s rural regions are losing residents as young people graduate from high school and seek opportunities elsewhere. As the Texas Tribune reports, “Texas’ population has grown faster than any other state, but that growth has been concentrated in urban areas—Houston, Dallas and Austin. More than half of all counties in Texas have lost population between 2010 and 2020, and those were exclusively in rural Texas.”
As rural populations decline, so too do student numbers in rural school districts. And here’s where parent empowerment can help. There are jobs in rural Texas—often high paying jobs—but the skills mismatch that is impeding our economic recovery is especially pronounced in rural areas. As Business Insider points out, “The jobs are where the workers aren’t.”
That’s true of job training opportunities, as well.
For example, there are thousands of jobs available for oil and gas production workers. In Texas, only 26 districts offer CTE (career and technical education) programs in that field. That means that 95% of Texas students don’t have access to it—though a high-paying job after graduation would be virtually assured.
In fact, in 2019, only 36 students completed the oil and gas CTE programs, yet there are 1,407 job openings annually in this field. Where are workers desperately needed? In these rural areas currently at risk: the Brazos Valley, East Texas, the Coastal Bend, the Permian Basin and the South Plains.
Likewise, there’s a huge need for workers in the refining and chemical processes sector; jobs requiring no college at all pay median wages of $70,000 to more than $80,000. Only 22 school districts offer CTE programs in this industry. In 2019, but there were zero Texas students who completed the courses, despite 1,804 annual job openings.
The same can be said for plumbing and pipefitting, HVAC workers, electrical technicians, and diesel and heavy equipment mechanics.
Parent empowerment can help by expanding these opportunities. How? By opening up opportunities to students throughout the Lone Star State. Lawmakers can ensure that students can even participate in programs like these online, no matter where they live (sensible rural broadband policies can help, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation covers that here). And other strategies—including paid apprenticeships—can be explored.
These policies are overwhelmingly popular with rural Texans. According to our polls, 70% of Texans believe parents should be allowed to use their child’s education funds to pay for workforce training, while 21% said they need more information about the plan. But just 9% said they would oppose that idea. The poll shows unequivocally that rural Texans believe students should be getting a better education, parents deserve more control, policymakers should expand options, and high school curriculum should include skills training and opportunities to begin a career early.
Rural Texas is at a crossroads. The right thing for the Legislature to do is to let every family choose its own direction.
Former Governor Perry served the state of Texas for over 14 years between 2000 and 2015 before serving as the United States Secretary of Energy from 2017 to 2019.