The future of the Dallas public education system is the future of Dallas

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A pandemic. A short but devastating recession. A disrupted housing and employment market.

Over the past 20 months, a wave of unpredictable momentum has swept through the Dallas-Fort Worth economy. North Texas has weathered the storm admirably in the short term, but to remain the “Heart Capital of America” ​​as Joel Kotkin and Cullum Clark recently called it, we need an education system. world-class audience that generates the country’s largest talent pool.

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 set of questions comes from business leaders who wish to stay or settle in our region. Imagine a CEO visiting a potential new office with a city chamber of commerce. The executive is undoubtedly curious about the cost of office space, ease of transportation and the regulatory environment. But with an ever-tight labor market, a question hangs over them all: Will I have enough skilled and well-educated employees to work here, not just today, but 20 years from now?

For Dallas to thrive, the answer from our hypothetical CEO must be an emphatic yes. And to arrive at yes, one 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 recent history of the city know that this situation is far from hypothetical. In 2018, Amazon selected 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 corporate headquarters is not enough. To take our place as America’s first city, we need residents of all zip codes to be part of our growing economy. It means answering another set of questions, from someone quite different than our hypothetical CEO.

Imagine a high school student living in Pleasant Grove today. As she enters her final 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 the cost of gasoline to get to campus? Will I ever be able to afford to rent my own apartment, let alone create a long-term wealth?

For Dallas to prosper, the answer for this student must also be a resounding yes. And to say yes, we need the same well-funded and well-coordinated network of primary and higher education institutions.

Our institution, Dallas College, alongside our many partner institutions across the region, is fully dedicated to ensuring that Dallas answers yes to both the CEO and the student. We have dozens of vocational 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 coaching for success, and hire assistance.

As a community, we have worked to align our K-12, community college and four-year universities and we have invested in Dallas County Promise to remove financial barriers.

This work had a real impact. According to new data from an economic impact study of Emsi Burning Glass, in fiscal year 2019-20, Dallas College added $ 3.9 billion in revenue to the Dallas County economy, and our associate graduates see an increase in their earnings of $ 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 fell 76%.

Yet despite this progress as an institution and as a region, we know that our responses to the CEO, and especially to the student, are not as strong as they could be. The statistics tell a disturbing story:

· Among adults aged 25 to 34, 64% of white Dallas County residents have graduated from post-secondary education, while only 31% of black residents and 15% of Hispanic residents have graduated.

· 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 last (278th) in terms of economic and racial inclusion.

As intimidating as these statistics are, this student from Pleasant Grove is counting on us to not give up. We must continue to support free and 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 lightening a regulatory burden, but the long-term benefits are far greater. If we do this public education work correctly, with the right funding, with data-driven approaches, and with a collaborative spirit, we won’t just be ready to answer yes to today’s Pleasant Grove young woman’s questions. hui. Twenty years from now, when she’s CEO on tour to a new location in our city, we’ll be ready to say yes to her again.

Josh Skolnick is executive director of the Dallas College Foundation.

Pyeper Wilkins is Vice Chancellor of Workforce and Promotion at Dallas College.

They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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