State Rep. Byron Cook: Want to Keep the Texas Economy Strong?

Recently Amazon announced its next headquarters will be in New York and Virginia. Since the two finalists from Texas (Dallas and Austin) lost out on this opportunity for approximately 50,000 new jobs and up to $5 billion in investment, it is important to understand why.

One of the reasons why we lost out may be the prominence of manufactured social issues used to promote unnecessary legislation, like the 2017 so-called “bathroom bill.” Although this bad proposal was defeated twice, other needless bills will likely return when lawmakers convene in 2019 — the most likely of which and potentially most harmful to our state being the removal of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Under Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s leadership in 2001, Texas became the first state to pass an in-state resident tuition policy that gives undocumented students who graduate from Texas high schools and meet certain requirements the same in-state tuition rates afforded to other Texans. The law makes college more affordable for students who were brought to Texas by no fault of their own and now call Texas home.

As evidence of how persistently this law has been under attack, since enacted, over 30 bills have been filed to repeal all or some of its provisions. As of November 28, 2018, one bill has been filed in advance of the 2019 session. And, unfortunately, there will likely be more.

Some claim the law allows undocumented students to attend college for free — and that is simply not true. This law is not a drain on our taxpayer dollars, but a judicious investment in our state’s youth. Since the U.S. Constitution requires that all children living in our country (even undocumented immigrants) have the right to public education, why would we not continue to invest in these kids when they attend college after spending years educating them in our public schools?

Restricting access to higher education not only hurts the undocumented students who have lived in our state for years, but it also hurts our economy. When serving as chair of the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness last fall, our committee heard testimony from numerous witnesses who repeatedly cited our state’s lack of an educated workforce as a concern for our future economic success.

Notably, we learned that the Hispanic population is the fastest growing in our state and currently has one of the lowest rates of educational attainment. As the vice president and senior economist of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Dr. Pia M. Orrenius, testified, “Texas is on the brink of squandering a demographic dividend by underinvesting in a pool of high school graduates.”

By removing the in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, we are reducing the number of students who can afford a college degree, and therefore decreasing our state’s skilled workforce. We need to ensure that everyone who lives in this great state is educated so they can reach their fullest potential and fill the critical gaps in our workforce.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers continue to promote pointless legislation that offers no benefit and actually hurts our state. As the next legislative session convenes in January, it is critical that instead of focusing on unnecessary legislation, that our state’s leaders find ways to increase educational attainment so the quality of life for all Texans can be improved and the state will be more attractive to businesses like Amazon in the future.

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