In a recent column, I shared some of the results of a survey in which I asked Texans to give their opinions on two of the most pressing issues that confront our country: the economy and health care. As part of the poll, Texans also weighed in on two other critical domestic priorities: education and transportation. While good tax policy and a fiscally responsible budget are essential to our short-term economic recovery, world-class education and efficient transportation systems will be the foundations of our long-term prosperity.
When asked how Congress should strengthen public education, nearly half of respondents want expanded options when determining their children's formal education. Over 31 percent want to attract more qualified teachers. Twenty-six percent said teachers' salaries should be raised. Another 21 percent believe technical and vocational training in community colleges should be expanded. And a little more than 20 percent want to provide students with more financial aid and scholarships for college.
All of these steps should be part of our comprehensive approach to meet our modern education challenges. Research indicates that, compared to children in other countries, our students are underperforming in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). These studies also show that a powerful predictor of student achievement in STEM is the presence of fully certified teachers who have at least a bachelor's degree in the subjects they teach. I've been a strong advocate for Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, a project in which colleges and universities encourage undergraduate students to gain degrees in their STEM fields of study with teacher certification obtained through required electives. In 2007, I cosponsored the America Competes Act, which increases the number of advanced placement (A.P.) courses in underprivileged schools and bolsters the supply of teachers for A.P. math, science, and foreign language courses.
Additionally, public schools are the foundation of our educational system, but 43 percent of survey respondents chose alternatives to public school as their top priority. Greater resources, local control, and consistent accountability standards are essential to achieving better education results for America's children. At the federal level, in 2001, I sponsored legislation to provide the option of single-sex schools, classrooms, and extracurricular activities at the elementary and secondary levels, paving the way for the Irma Rangel Magnet School for girls in Dallas and the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity, a charter school for boys in Houston. Numerous studies have demonstrated that girls enrolled in same-gender programs tend to have more confidence to express themselves in the classroom and pursue more courses in mathematics and science than they do in co-ed classrooms. Similar results were found for boys in middle and high school classrooms in urban locations.
Although mass transit continues to grow in our cities and suburbs, cars remain the primary mode of transportation for most Texans. We must expand our aging road infrastructure to keep pace with our growing population. By building more roads, highways, and bridges, we will create more jobs. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, every $1.25 billion spent on the nation's transportation infrastructure supports 35,000 jobs. And that spending tends to pay for itself by spurring even more economic activity. The American Public Transportation Association reports that every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation can return up to $30 million in business sales alone. Furthermore, now that we have a national highway road network in place, we should allow individual states to collect and spend their highway funding as they see fit.
While automobile alternatives and infrastructure were Texans' top priorities, support for tolling was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Only 15 percent of respondents suggested that we should increase the number of toll roads. I am against tolling federal highways that were built using taxpayers' money. Tolling should only be allowed on federal highways if it involves constructing new lanes, while maintaining the same number of free lanes. For the past two years in the Senate, I have introduced and passed legislation banning the practice of tolling existing federal highways.
I am proud to serve a body of constituents that is spiritedly involved in the policy decisions that shape our country. With your input, we can work together to develop practical answers to these and many other challenges facing our state and nation.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.