Commentary: Legislation aligns workforce needs with education

July 15, 2021

As published in the San Antonio-Express News

While the budget, pandemic and the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri dominated much of the 87th Texas Legislature, lawmakers made unmatched progress in education-to-workforce alignment issues that will have long-term benefits for students, employers and economy.

The new policies will ensure students have access to educational opportunities needed for the job market in Texas. Crafting quality workforce-development programs requires collaboration between employers, high schools, and community and technical colleges. House Bill 3938 by Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney, advances this goal by creating an advisory council of business, teachers and community colleges to develop industry-based certifications to prepare students to meet workforce needs.

A public school finance bill by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, House Bill 1525, improves the formula funding for career and technical education, or CTE, to better align “programs of study” to ensure students are prepared for in-demand, high-wage careers. The formulas reward school districts for offering CTE courses and pay a higher reimbursement rate. House Bill 773 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, adds an achievement indicator in the public school accountability system when students complete a program of study by high school graduation.

For employers seeking to collaborate with higher education partners to serve specific needs, a public community or junior college will have the “first right of refusal” to meet those needs under House Bill 4361 by Rep. John Raney, R-Bryan. If the community college is unwilling or unable to do so, employers will be able to invite competing colleges or workforce-training providers to partner with them. This new law could be a game changer for businesses or industries in underserved communities.

House Bill 3767 by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, will make permanent the Tri-Agency Initiative, a collaborative effort of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Workforce Commission and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The agencies will work together to identify statewide workforce goals and designate career pathways for occupations aligned with current needs and the forecast for high-growth careers. The agencies will also evaluate career education and training programs based on the outcomes of participants to ensure transparency and accountability on state workforce spending.

The three agencies create tools that allow average Texans to evaluate workforce programs, build a platform to provide students with information on jobs and earning potential, and create a public dashboard that tracks the state’s progress toward meeting its workforce development goals. An initiative by Rep. J.M. Lozano,R-Portland, House Bill 1247, requires the agencies to develop a framework to encourage work-based learning opportunities such as internships and apprenticeships.

In response to the pandemic, there have been calls to put Texans back to work in high-demand occupations and accelerate our economic recovery. Senate Bill 1102 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, establishes the Texas Re-skilling and Up-skilling through Education Initiative to support workforce education at public junior colleges. Funding for competitive grants will likely be debated during a special session later this fall to appropriate $16 billion in federal relief funds.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, authored House Bill 1230, which creates the Texas Commission on Community College Finance to study state appropriations for public community and junior colleges. The commission will make recommendations for establishing a state funding formula and levels sufficient for sustaining community college education and training offerings throughout Texas.

Finally, under Senate Bill 1, lawmakers fully funded the “returned value funding formula” by Texas State Technical College, which pays that institution based on graduates’ incomes, not hours in the classroom. The system rewards quality technical training, employability and job placement that benefits students, employers and the state’s economy.

These new laws reflect a commitment to collaboration, transparency and accountability that is essential to prepare Texas students for the high-quality jobs that anchor our state’s economy.

Tony Bennett is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers.