The future of the Dallas public education system is the future of Dallas
A pandemic. A short but devastating recession. A disrupted housing and employment market.
Over the past 20 months, a wave of unpredictable dynamics has swept through the Dallas-Fort Worth economy. North Texas has weathered the short-term storm admirably, but to remain America’s “heartland capital,” as Joel Kotkin and Cullum Clark recently called us, we need a system of world-class public education that generates the largest pool of talent in the country.
It will not be easy to develop. To get there, we will need to answer some fundamental questions from a diverse set of stakeholders.
The first series of questions comes from business leaders who want to stay in our region or settle there. Imagine a CEO visiting a potential new office with a city’s chamber of commerce. The executive is no doubt curious about the price of office space, the ease of transportation and the regulatory environment. But with a job market tighter than ever, one question looms above all: Will I have enough skilled, well-educated employees to operate here, not just today, but 20 years from now?
For Dallas to thrive, the answer from our hypothetical CEO must be a resounding yes. And to achieve this, infrastructure is more important than any other: a well-funded and well-coordinated network of primary and higher education institutions preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow.
Those familiar with the city’s recent history know that this situation is far from hypothetical. In 2018, Amazon chose New York and Virginia over Dallas for its second headquarters, citing an underdeveloped talent pool and our anemic investments in education compared to other cities on the shortlist.
However, attracting executives and head offices is not enough. To take our place as America’s number one city, we need residents of every ZIP code to be part of our growing economy. That means answering another set of questions, from someone very different from our hypothetical CEO.
Imagine a high school student living in Pleasant Grove today. As she enters her senior year of high school, her head is also full of questions: Can I afford college? Have I been prepared for higher education in the past 12 years? Even if I can afford college, can I afford gas to get to campus? Will I ever be able to afford to rent out my own apartment, let alone build long-term wealth?
For Dallas to thrive, the answer for this student must also be a resounding yes. And to say yes, we need that same well-funded, well-coordinated network of primary and higher education institutions.
Our institution, Dallas College, alongside our many partner institutions in the region, is fully dedicated to ensuring that Dallas answers yes to both the CEO and the student. We have dozens of professional training programs for traditional and non-traditional students. We have hundreds of partnerships with local employers. We have new ways to support students with mental health counseling, one-on-one success coaching and rental assistance.
As a community, we have worked to align our K-12, community college, and four-year university pathways and have invested in Dallas County Promise to remove financial barriers.
This work has had a real impact. According to new data from an Emsi Burning Glass economic impact study, in fiscal year 2019-20 Dallas College added $3.9 billion in revenue to the Dallas County economy, and our Associate graduates see their earnings increase by $14,800 each year compared to someone with a high school diploma or equivalent working in Texas.
The Dallas Independent School District is also making real progress. Between the 2013-2014 school year and the 2018-2019 school year, the number of students enrolled on campuses that did not meet state academic standards dropped by 76%.
Yet despite this progress as an institution and as a region, we know that our responses to the chief executive, and especially the student, are not as strong as they could be. The statistics tell a disturbing story:
· Among adults ages 25-34, 64% of white Dallas County residents have earned a post-secondary degree, while only 31% of black residents and 15% of Hispanic residents have earned a degree.
· White residents are 5.2 times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than Hispanic residents and 2.4 times more likely than black residents.
· The median household income for those living north of Interstate 30 is $72,327, compared to $56,613 for those living south of I-30.
A 2018 Urban Institute study ranked Dallas dead last (278th) in economic and racial inclusiveness.
As daunting as these statistics are, this Pleasant Grove student is counting on us not to give up. We must continue to support free, high-quality public education and treat its future and that of our region as one and the same, because they are.
This job of educating our future workforce is much more difficult than simply offering tax breaks or easing a regulatory burden, but the long-term benefits are far greater. If we do this public education work properly, with the right funding, with data-driven approaches, and with a spirit of collaboration, we won’t just be ready to answer yes to the young woman from Pleasant Grove’s questions today. today. Twenty years from now, when she’s a touring CEO in a new place in our city, we’ll be ready to say yes again.
Josh Skolnick is executive director of the Dallas College Foundation.
Pyeper Wilkins is Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Advancement at Dallas College.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
Find it full review section here. Do you have an opinion on this problem? Send a letter to an editor and you could be published.