Lucio Masthead Graphic
October 19, 2007
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
Legislature Emphasizes High School Completion, College Readiness

More than 21 percent of Texans over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma, and in the Rio Grande Valley those rates are estimated at 39 percent or higher.

If Texas wants to thrive in a competitive global economy, it will require higher educational standards from our future workforce and provide the means for every student to achieve them.

The Legislature has recently taken steps to secure the educational success of our children and schools by increasing funding targeted at high school completion and college preparedness.

This past 2007 Legislative Session, we passed House Bill 2237, the Texas High School Completion and Success Initiative, and appropriated $107 million to fund it.

While dropout rates continue to hover at 35 percent in Texas according to some reports, a more telling story is in a 2005-06 report by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) indicating that only 80 percent of high school students are graduating within four years.

Another study by the Intercultural Development Research Association has calculated statewide completion rates as low as 65 percent.

Sadly, Texas has not gained much ground in our high school completion rates during the past 10 years. In 1996, TEA reported that 75 percent were graduating within four years--a mere 5 percent difference!

A nationwide comparison by the National Center for Educational Statistics reported in June 2007 that Texas ranked 35th in freshman completion rates compared to the other 50 states and the District of Columbia. When students cannot graduate within the prescribed time, they often become discouraged and give up. That is why this new Initiative is so critical to our goals, and much of its funding will be geared to school districts with the greatest need.

The Initiative builds upon what we did during the 2006 Special Session, when we allocated a new $275 per student allotment, specifically targeted to improve college readiness among high school graduates.

Over 50 percent of those who continue on to college are enrolling in at least one remedial math, reading or writing course because they're simply not college-ready.

Texas high schools continue to struggle to prepare these students, but especially schools with more at-risk students and limited English proficient students. The four-year high school completion rates for these youngsters facing additional barriers are at 67% and 49%, respectively.

Part of the solution is funding received for the 2006-07 school year by 30 school districts and charter schools in my Senatorial District of $16.8 million from the new high school allotment, and also similar funding they received for the 2007-08 academic year. School districts are using these funds innovatively to improve college readiness and reduce dropout rates.

Some school districts have established special stipends for math and science teachers, lowered the teacher-pupil ratio or created after-school and weekend courses to help failing students.

Weslaco I.S.D. has developed a program to lure back students who have dropped out by providing more personalized instruction, flexible schedules and encouraging programs to help students pass their General Equivalency Diploma (GED) exams. They've even hired a team of teachers and aides, and a college readiness specialist who encourages education continuance by linking students with compatible programs at South Texas College or UT-Pan American. Since implementation of the Weslaco program last year, 150 students have participated and 50 have received their GEDs so far.

The recently enacted High School Completion and Success Initiative requires TEA to establish several grant programs to fund the construction of science labs, teacher professional development, student club activities aimed at dropout prevention, implementation of innovative high school improvement programs and intensive technology-based supplementary instruction.

The bill also establishes a council to identify priorities and make recommendations to improve the alignment of high school education, college education and workforce readiness. TEA will be required to study best practices on dropout prevention, provide a report to the Legislature, and establish an online clearinghouse of information and findings. Additionally, college readiness standards and expectations will be established, with personal graduation plans encouraged for each ninth grade pupil.

To further enhance these programs, I would like to see these initiatives coupled with more direct contact with school guidance counselors. With so many social factors influencing our youth today, personalized attention is key in helping students keep their eyes on graduation and beyond.

I am confident that these legislative commitments will make a significant academic impact. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I will also work to ensure that these programs remain funded. The future of Texas and its children depends on how well we meet their educational demands.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.