Regardless of one's socioeconomic status or place of birth, all Texans deserve a high level of education. Poor educational standards, nonsensical standardized tests, and poorly allocated funding not only robs children of the foundation of their future, but also negatively impacts the taxpayers that put their hard earned money into the education system with little to nothing to show for it. As of 2016, Texas ranked 43rd in the country in quality of education. Student achievement was ranked a C-, projected success later in life scored a C, and they also received a D in school finance. That is simply unacceptable. The Texas education system is in need of massive reforms.
Texas is attempting to embrace a voucher system that funnels money out of the public school system and into private, for-profit schools. Not only does this system overwhelm families in lower socioeconomic areas, but it has also absolutely devastated rural areas. Many public schools in these rural areas are at risk of closing due to lack of funding. I am strongly opposed to the voucher system.
Public schools receive funding from the federal, state, and local governments, but the proportion of those funds between the three has altered drastically over the years. The state of Texas used to cover around 60% of the costs of public education, but that number has declined significantly. Today, the state is financially responsible for around 35% of public education costs, forcing local entities to foot the rest of the bill. This leads to massive differences in funding depending on the socioeconomic status of a given area. Dr. Wayne Piece, the executive director of the Equity Center, the largest school finance research and advocacy organization in the nation, testified that property-wealthy school districts spend about $65,000 more per classroom than poor districts. The state must start carrying its own weight again.
Vocational training and education is vital for a prosperous state. With 68.5% of the Texas labor force lacking a Bachelor's degree, we must have a greater focus on job training programs and apprenticeships. Not everyone wants to attend college and we need to make sure everyone is given as ample opportunity to succeed in the field of their choosing. Vocational jobs are the backbone of this country and proper training and education not only creates more efficient workers in those fields, but provides better pathways to achieving work in those fields.
While Texas has begun taking steps to reform the criminal justice system, we still have a long way to go. 44.4% of inmates in Texas prisons are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. Over 27,500 people are currently in Texas prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-related offenses, and, at a cost of around $20,000 per inmate per year, we as taxpayers are spending over $550 million a year to keep nonviolent drug offenders locked up behind bars. In addition, Texas spent over $250 million on marijuana possession charges in 2010 alone.
In addition to costs to the taxpayer, innocent citizens are being imprisoned for weeks and months on end as a result of the unconstitutional bail system. In America, we are all considered innocent until proven guilty, but if an individual cannot afford to pay for their bail, many are forced behind bars until their court date, which could be months away. The ramifications of this system are widespread. These individuals are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of missing work. Many people are confronted with two choices: plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit and get out, or stay in jail and maintain their innocence.
Persons leaving prison are being set up for failure. Most companies do not accept applicants that have been convicted of a crime, which makes it nearly impossible for truly rehabilitated individuals to get back on their feet. Nonviolent felons should not be required to disclose their convictions on job applications unless the job is relevant to the crime (e.g applying to become an accountant after going to prison for forgery/check theft). Partnerships with local businesses willing to hire formerly incarcerated individuals who have had the proper job training is another avenue we must explore. Incentivizing these businesses with tax credits will help reintroduce them back into society and allow them to have opportunities they otherwise wouldn't, which would undoubtedly lower the recidivism rate of prisons.
Texas is also in major need of revising its expunction laws. If an individual is mistakenly arrested for theft, all to be released shortly after, that arrest still shows up on their record. Employers and landlords will see that charge on a prospective employee or tenant's application and deny them, even if they have been incorrectly charged! That is absolutely unacceptable and Texas needs to step up and make sure these individuals are not set up for failure through no fault of their own.
While the Affordable Care Act has helped cover millions of Americans with necessary health insurance, there are still immense problems with it that must be addressed. The ACA has slowed the rate in which premiums increase, but premiums are still skyrocketing. Many Americans cannot afford health insurance and they are suffering as a result. Medicaid, the healthcare coverage provided to the neediest and most struggling Americans, was not expanded in Texas. Due to this, thousands of Texans cannot receive necessary healthcare and many will end up dying. In addition, many rural healthcare centers have closed or are at risk of closure as a result of Texas' refusal to expand the program. We must expand Medicaid. When Texas refused to expand Medicaid as a part of the Affordable Care Act, they were telling our citizens that they would rather them die than provide healthcare to them. In America we are guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and until citizens in this country and state do not have to worry about dying as a result of not being able to afford healthcare, we are robbed of that right to life.
With 25.2% of District 12 below the poverty line, it is incredibly important to do everything we can to provide opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. While raising the minimum wage too quickly and to an untenable value would ultimately lead to job loss, slow and steady raises are necessary. Over time, the longer an individual works at minimum wage, the less spending power those dollars possess. Refusing to raise the minimum wage is equivalent to providing wage reductions to hard working men and women in our district. For eight years, Texas has refused to raise the minimum wage. In August of 2009 (8 years ago), $100 could purchase $113.75 worth of goods and services today. Raising the minimum wage allows hard working citizens to pay for bills that would otherwise go unpaid. Virtually all of that money is being put back into the economy which allows both businesses and citizens to prosper.
Gerrymandering, the deliberate redrawing of districts to place a given political party at an advantage, is nothing short of undemocratic. In America, voters are supposed to be given the task of choosing their representatives; gerrymandering allows representatives to choose their voters. Our federal, state, and local elected officials report to only one group: we the people. By allowing lawmakers to pick their voters as opposed to voters picking their leaders, we are robbing the American people of their votes. We must end the practice and allow for nonpartisan commissions to draw district lines.
With Texas being a border state, we bear the brunt of the violence led by the cartels in their attempts to smuggle drugs and firearms across the border. A large portion of cartel profits come from the smuggling and distribution of marijuana, a drug thats usage has not been attributed to a single reported death. Not only would the legalization of marijuana deal a massive blow to cartel profits, but it would also create an entirely new industry that would bring thousands of jobs to the state. Tax revenue from marijuana sales would provide the state of Texas with millions of dollars per year that could be spent towards improving our education system or repairing our crumbling roads and bridges. The legalization of marijuana would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, create thousands of jobs, and grow the Texas economy.
According to a 2017 analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers, America's infrastructure is close to failing. On an A-F ranking system, America scored a D+. That same study calculated that it costs Texans an average of $506 extra per year from driving on roads in need of repairs. 18% of our roads were rated in poor condition and 900 of our bridges are structurally deficient. We can no longer put off investing in the repair of our infrastructure. Investing a little bit of money now will save Texas billions in the long run.