Texas Business Groups Split on Grad-Test Requirements

By guest blogger Rob Bock

The passage of House Bill 5 may have had strong support in the Texas House of Representatives, but business groups in Texas hold divergent opinions on what the legislation could mean for the state’s business community.

House Bill 5 is designed to allow for greater curricular flexibility by modifying curriculum requirements. By reducing the number of required tests for graduation from 15 to 5, students would have the option of choosing one of five coursework pathways to focus on, intended to enhance career skills and workforce readiness. The option of pursuing a “traditional” courseload, however, still exists.

Jobs for Texas, a coalition that represents more than 300,000 Texas employers and over six million Texas jobs, expressed strong support for House Bill 5 the day before it passed through the Texas House of Representatives with preliminary approval.

“The reforms in this bill will give students greater flexibility to pursue their interests and will allow schools to develop relevant, up-to-date programs that reflect the demands of Texas employers,” Jobs for Texas wrote in a letter to the Texas House representatives. “Our students and their parents deserve more flexibility to choose courses that interest them and will prepare them to thrive in higher education and the workplace.”

Jobs for Texas also included in its letter results from a statewide poll it conducted of 1,000 registered voters. It found:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents say they would encourage their children to aim for jobs in professional and technical fields that are considered high paying.
  • Nine in 10 say that high schools should offer the kinds of courses and training students need to qualify for these higher-paying jobs, and schools should provide information on the job market in the state and surrounding region.

However, some influential business and education leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the bill, including the Texas Association of Business (TAB) lobbying group.

TAB, along with 15 other business organizations and large companies, including the Austin Chamber of Commerce, ExxonMobil, and Texas Instruments, sent a letter last week to members of the state Senate urging it to shift course.

“Now is not the time to reverse progress when Texas needs a more skilled workforce to meet the demands of the 21st-century economy,” the letter said. “National studies show that many students do not understand what courses they need to succeed in college. Surveys show that about 4 in 10 students who graduated in 2010 wish they had taken more or more challenging math… Lowering graduation requirements would send the wrong message to our students, create fewer pathways to additional education and threaten Texas competitively.”

After the bill’s passage on Tuesday, TAB president and CEO Bill Hammond expressed his disappointment in a public statement.

“We know that many students will take the path of least resistance to get a high school diploma,” Hammond said. “I feel that path is not the one that will best prepare them for their future, whether that future is college or work right after high school.”

A number of additional groups and individuals have spoken out against House Bill 5, including Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, Hispanic civil rights group La Raza, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, and the Dallas Morning-News editorial board.

Although House Bill 5 passed through the Texas House with tentative approval, it remains to be seen whether Senate Bill 3—an analogous bill currently making its way through the Texas State Senate also championed by Jobs for Texas—will attain the same level of success.

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