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Educating all kids is key to Texas’ economic future

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Educating all kids is key to Texas’ economic future

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a proposal to deny in-state tuition to college students who came to the U.S. as children without documentation. Texan and American voters are much smarter than DeSantis. Educating all children regardless of immigration status is popular nationwide. More than 70% of Americans support legal status for Dreamers, according to data from Pew Research, including 61% of Texas voters. Twenty-three other states offer in-state tuition rates to Dreamer college students. And last year in Arizona, 83% of Democrats, 56% of Independents and nearly a third of Republicans voted to support Dreamer tuition, overturning a 16-year ban.


All those figures say something: Most people think that depriving young people of education is wrong. It is good politics and better economics to educate every child. It's also morally right. Texas, proudly, has long been a national leader on this issue, offering in-state tuition rates at state postsecondary institutions to all Texas high school grads, regardless of immigration status, since 2001.


Take it from us, a bank CEO and the former head of Texas' second-largest school district: We absolutely should not try to do what DeSantis said he would do in Florida.


And here's why: Educating these young people is not our burden but in fact our opportunity, and our crucial investment. Data from the bipartisan research group New American Economy show that Texas Dreamers earn more than $1 billion annually, and pay more than $250 million in taxes every year. Certainly, a large part of those earnings come from Dreamers who've attained college educations via Texas' in-state tuition rates. Further, data from the Higher Ed Immigration Portal show that nearly 60,000 undocumented Texans are enrolled in higher education.


Immigrants make up approximately 17% of the U.S. labor force. Undocumented workers make up approximately 50% of the farm labor workforce. We need educated workers in our country to foster economic growth. These immigrants are vital to our future.


Consider this current generation of more than 100,000 Texas Dreamers, undocumented young adults, many of whom went through our public K-12 systems. According to the group Every Texan, those who are DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) recipients have a collective spending power of $3.7 billion. Nearly 40% of them have earned a bachelor's degree or higher.


More than 4,000 of them have become health care workers, nearly 3,000 have become teachers, and more than 30,000 are among the so-called essential workers that got us through the COVID19 pandemic. They contribute $436.8 million in state and local taxes, and under federal law, they are not eligible for the vast majority of federal and state public benefits.


The Every Texan report calculated that if DACA were to end, Texas would lose nearly $140 million annually in state and local taxes.


As our booming state faces huge needs in construction, health care, child care, senior care, education, hospitality and other sectors, Dreamers are critical. For both of us, DACA recipients have been among our very best workers in our respective organizations. Take K-12 education away from them and they become not tomorrow's gift to the state, but our liability.


And then there's the crucial point made in the 1982 Plyler vs. Doe U.S. Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed free K-12 education to undocumented young people. Citing the 14th Amendment equal protection clause, the court said: "By denying these children a basic education, we … foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our Nation." The court also said that holding children accountable for their parents' actions "does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice."


It certainly does not. Imagine the consequences of letting tens of thousands of children in Texas, or the U.S. more broadly, go without an education. It would create, in the words of Plyler, "a separate and identifiable underclass," leading to even higher levels of unemployment, poverty and crime than we already have.


Providing public K-12 education to all American children is a bulwark against social chaos. And it's something that the majority of Americans support, according to a YouGov poll last year. Providing in-state tuition for those same students to pursue more lucrative careers in fields that will drive Texas' economy for generations to come, is just common sense.


Dreamers are a crucial part of our state's future growth, wealth and workforce needs. We Texans do not want to see our home state lose its competitive edge to other states because we signed onto an anti-commonsense policy similar to what DeSantis supports. That would impose the true burden on the Lone Star State's future.


Dennis Nixon is the CEO of IBC Bank and Michael Hinojosa is the former superintendent of Dallas ISD.