By RENZO SOTO and GABE GRANTHAM
Nearly 15 million hardworking Texans show up for work each day. This is the highest number of employed people in our state’s history – a testament to the strength and resilience of Texans and our economy.
However, while our workforce reaches new heights, the need for skilled workers is growing alongside the state’s economic expansion and population growth.
To address this challenge, the 88th Legislature has undertaken a workforce-focused session, introducing bipartisan bills aimed at equipping Texans with the essential skills to earn wages leading to self-sufficiency and a good quality of life. From investments in community colleges to expanding apprenticeship programs, here’s a look at four of the bills demonstrating the Legislature’s commitment to fostering a business-friendly state where job seekers can find ample opportunities.
The first is House Bill 8, which aims to infuse substantial funding of $650 million for the 2024-2025 biennium in Texas’ 50 public community college districts. Introduced by Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, the bill proposes historic reform of the state’s community college finance system focused on aligning college programs with evolving workforce needs. With a majority of jobs in Texas projected to require education or training beyond high school by 2036, this investment is coming at a critical time. Empowering Texas’ community colleges will help bridge the gap in postsecondary credential attainment.
Another significant bill is HB 1703, proposed by Rep. Claudia Ordaz, D-El Paso, which focuses on enhancing Texas’ Workforce Development Evaluation System. Texas invests over $110 billion annually in taxpayer-funded education and workforce training programs across the state, which offer Texans the opportunity to learn, upskill and reskill for jobs, a critical component of our economy. This bill would help the state obtain the data needed to optimize these programs, ensuring they lead to successful employment outcomes and better wages for Texans.
To further expand job training, HB 4451, introduced by Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-Euless, aims to increase apprenticeship programs by requiring an annual legislative report that would identify industries with high and emerging workforce demand and produce recommendations to develop apprenticeship opportunities accordingly. Texas currently falls behind other states in active apprenticeships as a percentage of our workforce, and this legislation seeks to address the disparity. Apprenticeships offer valuable practical skills and experience in high-demand industries, aligning education with workforce needs.
Lastly, Senate Bill 1861 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and companion legislation HB 3141 by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, propose expanding virtual learning options for Texas students. These bills address the disparities in advanced coursework offerings, such as Advanced Placement courses in high school and Algebra I in middle school, particularly in rural communities. By leveraging online programs, Texas can provide better access to high-quality education, create opportunities for enrollment in advanced coursework and leverage flexible scheduling for work-based learning and internships.
Thanks to the legislature’s bold action to leverage the diverse talent of our population and equip individuals with the necessary skills for an evolving workforce, these bipartisan bills will help shape our future into a thriving economy, allow for more upward mobility for more Texans and create a prosperous future for generations to come.
Renzo Soto is a Texas 2036 policy advisor and Gabe Grantham is a Texas 2036 policy analyst.