I want to thank you all for being here today because your presence means you care about Texas and the young people who will someday lead our state.
There is no question that technology is influencing their lives perhaps more than any other generation and we need to ensure that change is positive. There are some folks who focus on the downside of technology, worrying about its impact on things like physical fitness, the ability to do math problems in one's head, or its potential to expose children to information their young minds are not equipped to handle. These are legitimate concerns that demand parental involvement but they can also be a distraction from the enormous potential technology represents.
No matter how you slice it, technology is rapidly changing the workplace and the jobs our children will someday do in it. Our responsibility is to prepare them for that workplace using every resource at our disposal, including the technology that has been seen by some as no more than a vehicle for entertainment.
Teachers will tell you that getting and keeping a student's attention is an essential part of the learning process and parents will tell you that their children are never more focused than when they're playing a videogame. Some parents might tell you that video games cause deafness too, but it's more likely their children are ignoring them as they engage in the complex problem solving that is so often the part of modern games. So, I applaud the folks here today for thinking outside the box, setting aside any preconceived notions of what works and what doesn't and identifying our children's education as a top priority.
That is the approach I have taken throughout my tenure as governor, as we've improved the way we educate our children in Texas public schools. We've done that by improving accountability, emphasizing the basics and providing incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. We also reformed the way we finance our schools and increased spending on public education by more than 40 percent in the process.
We've also worked hard to prepare high school students to graduate college or career ready no matter what their economic status. That priority got a big boost last year, when I signed House Bill 3, which not only placed greater emphasis on the basics, but also ratcheted up the level of accountability. It ensures our standards, curricula and textbooks are college-ready while giving students more flexibility to choose courses that interest and motivate them. It also provides parents with access to vital information on not only their children's progress, but also their district's financial efficiency.
These are the latest in a series of education improvements that have led to improved TAKS scores in every subject and every grade for the 2008-2009 school year and recognition for Texas as one of only four states closing the achievement gap in math.
One indicator of our continued success can be found in Advanced Placement testing where student participation is up 170 percent over the last nine years and the number of passing scores went up 140 percent. We have made significant progress, but we have more work to do.
We need to build on the success of our STEM academies, which teach the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math that our students need to succeed. Since I announced the T-STEM initiative about four-and-a-half years ago, we have funded 46 of these remarkable schools in Texas and watched them change the lives of at-risk high school students. Already, 86 percent of these schools are exemplary or recognized and all are meeting state standards.
On average, T-STEM campuses outperformed their peers by 18 percentage points in the 2008 Math TAKS and 19 percentage points in the 2008 Science TAKS. This is remarkable given the challenges the average student in these academies face and the relative newness of the schools themselves. The program is making a difference, so we need to increase its reach by doubling the number of STEM academies across Texas.
I have also challenged the Legislature to create a $100 million STEM Challenge Scholarship fund for students seeking degrees or certificates in STEM fields. Not only will such scholarships give students an incentive to continue their high-tech studies, they'll encourage them to stay in Texas so our state can benefit from their brainpower and work ethic.
More STEM students mean we need more STEM teachers, so I have called for the U-Teach program to be doubled. When those math and science whizzes hit college we not only want them to work hard in their high-tech major, we hope they'll consider sharing their wisdom with the next generation of students as teachers themselves. We need to add five new U-Teach programs to the six already in place at Texas universities so we can train up another 2,000 STEM teachers in just five years.
As I said before, we need to make better use of technology to reach and educate our students. So I have called for the creation of a Texas Virtual High School using the Texas Virtual Schools Network that will not only expand academic opportunities but also provide students who have dropped out an opportunity to earn a Texas high school diploma.
At the heart of these technology efforts, we can never lose touch with the importance of living, breathing teachers whose passion and commitment can inspire their students to achieve their best. Instead, we should leverage the emerging technologies to improve their effectiveness, extend their reach, and multiply their results. Then we can turn out even more students like Klein Oaks High School alumnus, Rodney Gibbs, who runs Ricochet Labs here in town or Drew Murray, whose path to creative director at Insomniac Games began at Lake Highlands High School.
I am firmly convinced that there is no better place and no better group of professionals to lead the charge for innovation than Texas. We already have the third largest concentration of game companies in the US with more than 3,500 employees, working for 124 companies that directly spend more than $234 million in our state. Those are all numbers I want to see go up.
We already have students being trained in video game creation at institutions of higher learning across the state like the well-known Guildhall at SMU whose graduates work at more than 80 game studios worldwide. The number of Texas-trained game designers will no doubt go up as programs gain momentum at schools like Baylor, UT-Dallas, and heaven-on-earth, otherwise known as Texas A&M.
Here in Texas, our game companies not only turn out classics like Quake, Ultima Online, and the Age of Empires series, they're also applying their skills to programs that teach users vital skills, like emergency room procedures and law enforcement techniques. The critical mass is already here and we should use it to press ahead, creating the tools that educate our citizens and creating jobs in the process.
We already have the most job-friendly economy in the nation thanks to our low taxes and sensible regulations along with our fair legal system and constantly improving schools. We also have what industry folks have told me is one of the most sensible and useful incentive programs in the country.
In a nutshell, a game company can get back up to 5 percent of what they spend in-state including pay for Texas residents working on Texas projects. When you consider how skilled and innovative those Texans are it's even more likely that they'll play a role in this revolution in the way we learn, communicate and work.
For those of you at this conference, I encourage you to dream big because this is a state where those big dreams can come true. Arrayed before you are the resources to make things happen. Whether it's the chips manufactured by our host, AMD, the code written in one of the many game studios that dot the Texas landscape, or the innovators working throughout our education system, the puzzle pieces are here.
How you put them together can impact our state, our nation, and our world for decades to come.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.