The Texas Dream Act makes economic sense

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Republican primary race for lieutenant governor is quickly turning into an emotional bomb-throwing spectacle, with the four candidates blasting away at hot-button issues to establish who is furthest to the right.

Among their recent targets is the Texas Dream Act, the 2001 law granting in-state college tuition rates to Texas high school graduates who are undocumented.

This law, which I sponsored in the Texas Senate, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The four lieutenant governor candidates seem to think this happened under the influence of misguided, bleeding-heart compassion. But really, this law passed because it made smart economic sense for Texas, both then and now.

Before 1982, Texas law allowed school districts to deny education to children of undocumented immigrants. The U.S. Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe struck down that law, ruling that states may not withhold public education from children residing within their boundaries, regardless of immigration status.

Given this ruling, let’s step back from the emotion and just look at the math:

• Texas has already made a significant investment in these students. K-12 public education is about 42 percent of our overall state budget. Educating one child costs around $8,671 per year.

Because the Texas Dream Act requires graduates to have at least three years of residency, that means our investment totals at least around $26,013 per “Dreamer” — more if they came as little children.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, in 2011 there were 18,623 undocumented students enrolled in the state universities and colleges (less than 1 percent of all college students). That means Texas had already invested at least $484 million in those students before they graduated high school.

• The Texas Dream Act is our greatest chance to ensure the biggest return on our investment. Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn substantially more than those with just a high school education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the median weekly income for those holding a high school diploma was $652. With a few college courses, that median increased to $727.

The holder of an associate’s degree, typically a two-year degree, earns a median $785 per week, and a bachelor’s degree boosts that median salary significantly to $1,066.

So, while we invested about $240 per week for each of these students in high school, with a bachelor’s degree they could earn $1,066 per week. That could be a profit for Texas of $826 per week per student.

That is a return of almost $4 per $1 already invested! Without a bachelor’s degree, the return is only around $2.50 per $1 invested.

• Experts who use much more sophisticated calculations tell us that in the long term, our return on investment could double — higher-wage jobs mean more money spent in our stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Any way you look at it, the Texas Dream Act is a smart return on investment for our entire state, not just “Dreamers.”

• These children are our students, and they desperately want to be citizens. The Dream Act requires them to petition for citizenship, and they proudly do so, as the United States is the country of their dreams.

Given these numbers, should we waste time fighting over less than 1 percent of the college-going population while 100 percent of Texans struggle with droughts and fight to prevent our roads from being turned to gravel?

We must put emotions aside and do what is best for Texas’ dream — to be the greatest state in the nation. Basic math shows us that the Texas Dream Act can help us get there.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, sits on the Senate Education Committee. www.vandeputte.senate.-

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