The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Rep. Branch focuses on education

After quick hellos, Representative Dan Branch wastes no time before delving into one of his main concerns for Texas today: it’s growing uneducated workforce.

According to Rep. Branch, Texas ranks 35th in the nation for percentage of college graduates.

Maybe it is his energy and commanding presence that allow Rep. Branch to balance his roles as father, attorney and civic leader. The 49-year-old father of five spent 21 of the past 39 months in session in Austin as the representative for Texas House District 108, which includes the Park Cities, Uptown and East Dallas. He was the first freshman representative elected to the Appropriations Committee since 1967. He also serves as the Chair of Budget and Oversight for the Public Education Committee.

“Dan Branch has a solid, well-informed, calm demeanor. . .other members would look to see how he voted,” said Dr. Cal Jillson, the Former Chair of the Department of Political Science at SMU. “The appropriations committee appointment is a good example of that.”

Rep. Branch developed his interest in the American legal system from an outsider’s perspective. He was born the middle of five children to American parents living in Montreal. During his childhood, he made a trip with his dad to watch the Canadian Parliament. While in the U.S. one summer, he convinced his parents to let him stay up watching results pour in from the Nixon and Humphrey presidential election. The family moved to San Antonio when Rep. Branch was 10.

His childhood interest in politics ultimately led him to pursue a law degree at SMU in 1983. While on the Hilltop, he served as editor of the law review and met his wife, fellow Mustang and Dallas native, Stacey Salvino.

Rep. Branch’s interest in national politics is evident in his ideologies on Texas public service.

“Texas matters to the nation…We need to manage our growth. If we fall flat, it hinders the nation,” Representative Branch said.

Texas is the world’s tenth largest economy.

Rep. Branch views Texas’s growing uneducated workforce as the greatest threat to this economy. And although he’s not an economist but a real estate lawyer at Winstead (one of Texas’s largest business law firms), Rep. Branch has accounting and American Studies undergraduate degrees from Oklahoma Christian University.

Rep. Branch’s accounting background is evident in his approach to Texas education reform. Although 44% of the state budget is directed towards education, Rep. Branch believes that “the funding formula (for education) needs to be more efficient.” Money is now allocated to school districts according to their population growth. Rep. Branch thinks the money should be distributed in order to improve technology equipment and to create bilingual education programs as needed rather dispensing funds on a per student basis.

Improving schools’ technological resources should help keep students “engaged and excited”, Branch believes. Maintaining students’ interest stems from an effort to improve Texas’s high school dropout rate, which was roughly 15% for the graduating class of 2004, according to the Texas Education Agency.

For Texas Hispanics, this number is around 21% for the same year. This is where the implementation of bilingual programs is important. According to Branch, 1600 Hispanics come to Texas everyday; 500 of this number make their home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Other Texans believe improving graduation rates cannot be remedied with additional money or programs.

“The heart of education starts with parents,” said Dr. Glenn Linden, author of Desegregating Schools in Dallas and SMU history professor. “You have to have family involvement.”

Rep. Branch turns his attention towards other problems in education he thinks he can fix. These additional efforts include allocating more money to financial aid and granting students Tuition Equalization Grants (TEGs) to attend private universities. Money also needs to be sent to community colleges. The notion of improving or creating more high ranking schools in Texas is also to be considered, according to Rep. Branch.

Currently, only four of the top 70 schools in the country are in Texas. The state is second in population only to California, which hosts nine of these top 70 schools. So where will the money to create and enact these reforms come from?

“Texas has a pretty good surplus (of money) going right now. The economy is strong, sales tax revenue is up,” said Rep. Branch. Maintaining this economy is, of course, at the heart of Branch’s entire education reform.

“We have a knowledge based economy…this can all go away,” said Rep. Branch.

Rep. Branch is now taking time off to enjoy his family, law practice and to gear up for the 2008 elections.

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