Thank you, Dr. Brian May and thank you all for having me here today.
You have definitely assembled the heavy-hitters in state government in this room. We might even have enough votes here for a quorum.
Their presence is an indication of our shared appreciation for the role this area plays in the success of our state.
The presence of so many leaders from our universities makes it clear that education continues to loom large in the minds of Texans.
I have to say that, while Dr. Paredes was speaking, I got a little a little rush of Texas pride in the progress we've made in our schools.
Texas has a strong academic story to tell thanks to a concerted effort that we have made in conjunction with legislators, the TEA teachers groups, parents and local districts.
It has taken a lot of work, but the results are beyond encouraging. For example, we've seen improved TAKS scores in nearly 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.
Student participation in Advanced Placement testing is up 170% over the last nine years and the number of passing scores went up 140%.
Texas has one of the highest overall numbers of students taking the SAT in the nation with more first-generation college students taking the exam than the national average and the number of Hispanic students taking the SAT growing by nearly 105% since 1999.
In math, Texas students are beating the national average on the ACT with scores across all demographics improving every year since "05.
However you measure success, Texas is pointed in the right direction. However, we can do more and we must do more to ensure that Texans high schoolers are ready for the next step, be it a job or college.
We need to build on the success of our existing initiatives like our network of STEM academies that teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills to students in traditionally "at-risk" categories.
I believe we should double the number of our STEM academies investing $40 million to double our academies from 46 to 92 to double the opportunity to prepare for high tech jobs or studies.
To staff these new academies, I propose we expand our STEM-qualified teacher pool by doubling the size of our U-Teach program.
U-Teach has been very successful at luring college students with math and science concentrations into the teaching profession.
I've also proposed expanding the Texas Virtual School Network with the creation of a Texas Virtual High School.
This approach would leverage existing technology to enable students to complete their education with accredited curriculum from any computer with an Internet connection.
The Virtual High School will let students work at their own pace without compromising our state's strict standards and accountability.
These programs have helped Texas earn national acclaim with our programs designated "best practices" last year by the bipartisan National Governor's Association.
As we continue our efforts to improve the quality of education in our state, we must keep students engaged by cutting down on dropouts.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average annual salary of Americans who finish high school is 38% higher than those who don't.
If we want to keep our economy moving forward and the resulting prosperity readily available, we need to tackle the dropout problem from multiple angles.
From the student perspective, I have proposed a simple accountability measure requiring school enrollment or progress to a GED if they want to keep a Texas driver's license.
For the schools, we offered the optional flexible school day that lets districts offer classes outside of traditional school day hours.
71 districts took advantage of this option during the past school year and I hope even more will see its benefit in the coming year.
For business owners who employ students who dropped out to support their families, I have proposed an incentive in the form of a $1,500 sales tax deduction for each full-time employee who dropped out that either returns and graduates high school or earns their GED.
To be eligible, the business must be in good standing with the state and must provide the employee at least two hours of paid time off every week to attend classes, complete coursework or study for tests.
If 5,000 students per year take advantage of this program this deduction translates to around $7.5 million annually a very worthwhile investment in a second chance for these Texans, their families and our communities.
With the help of the 82nd Legislature we can continue this collaborative approach to improving education and keep removing the barriers that stand in the way of dropouts completing their education and taking their rightful place in our workforce.
That workforce is one of our state's strong points and a key reason that Texas continues to lead the nation in job creation.
We're dealing with joblessness like everyone else is but our unemployment rate is more than a full point below the national average thanks to the strength of our economy.
We're proud of that statistical spread, but I never lose sight of the fact that those numbers represent Texas families facing real challenges. However, the strength of our economy gives them a better chance of re-employment than just about anywhere else.
In fact, Texas employers have added more than 166,000 jobs in 2010 more than any other state in the country including 14,000 in June.
Throw in our national lead in exports and Fortune 1,000 companies and you can see why CNBC recently declared Texas the nation's best state for business.
Credit for our economic strength goes, first, to our citizens, who have a work ethic that simply cannot be beat.
Second, I would credit our legislators' embrace of fiscal discipline and adherence to a few simple rules that keep Texas job-friendly.
First, we don't spend all the money, so we have a balanced budget and billions of dollars set aside for a rainy day.
Second, we have established a regulatory climate that is predictable, so that employers know what to expect when they're risking their capital.
Third, we reformed our legal system to cut down on over-suing which has improved access to healthcare all across our state.
Fourth, we have worked to create an accountable school system that is better preparing our children to compete in the workforce.
Because they emphasize personal freedom and responsibility these principles work and put people to work.
As our population grows by about 1,000 people per day the need for jobs not only increases but infrastructure demands do as well.
Fortunately, we are making significant strides in power generation following our all of the above energy strategy leveraging our state's traditional energy resources as we set the standard for renewable energy as well.
Out here in San Angelo, you all are very familiar with the growth of the wind energy business and are likely aware that we not only lead the nation in terms of installed wind energy capacity we can boast more than all but four other countries.
On the water side, I sincerely believe that the 82nd Legislature must finally execute our state's water plan to help meet a demand that is expected to grow 18 percent over the next 50 years as our population doubles.
Some might call the current price tag steep, but we must invest soon to avoid a water crisis in the not too distant future.
Another crisis that demands our immediate attention is the growing intrusiveness of Washington D.C. in our state affairs.
Now, don't get me wrong: I do believe that governments have an essential role to play when it comes to safety but Washington's attempt to become the "be all, end all" is a harmful effort that will not end well.
As the EPA follows their "big government" urge to be useful they want to replace our clean air permitting process with a classic one-size-fits-all solution.
Why else would they blow up a program that has made Texas a national leader in cleaning the air slashed ozone levels 22% and reduced NOx gas emissions by 53% since 2000.
During the same time period, ozone levels across the country have dropped just 8% and NOx emissions by just 27%.
Our major cities are meeting the 1997 eight-hour ozone standard except the Metroplex which is within 1 part per billion of complying.
Today, every county in Texas is within federal standards for fine particulate matter which target pollutants with the greatest effect on human health.
Even more impressive, these improvements happened while our population grew by 3.9 million new people and our economy grew 50% faster than the nation as a whole. That's why it's hard to explain the EPA's now-infamous endangerment finding on carbon dioxide which actually only endangers thousands of Texas jobs.
That's why it's hard to explain why the Department of the Interior is working so hard to get a deepwater drilling moratorium to stick.
While they continue their battle in the courts, including the suit we filed yesterday, some companies are moving their rigs to Africa and Americans are wondering how they'll replace the 30 million barrels that will be lost in the course of a six-month moratorium.
That's why it's hard to explain why Congress just passed legislation that would require our legislators and me to violate the Texas constitution in order to secure additional funding for Texas schools.
If Washington, DC would free the states to innovate and compete our nation as a whole would be much better off.
I truly believe that's what our nation's founders thought. The Tenth Amendment holds that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Those are simple words that send a clear message but Washington has grown deaf to our concerns.
In the months to come, and in the upcoming legislative session Texas simply needs to keep doing what Texas does best maintaining an environment that frees people to pursue their dreams.
When you boil it down, people basically want a good job, a safe neighborhood and a better education for their children.
So let's never forget those folks as we go about our business because they're the ones who truly make Texas great.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.