The cliché is true. "Education is the gateway to opportunity" has been said so many times that it's almost an empty expression. But it's still very true.
Earning an education is the greatest investment a person can make, and adhering to that axiom has paid off for millions of Americans, including myself.
As individuals, as a community and as a country -- we can all agree that keeping Americans equipped with knowledge and skills is of the highest importance.
But, today, what once was a path to prosperity is leading us to second place -- or actually 18th place internationally, according to a recent study on secondary education by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Indeed, the statistics paint a stark picture. According to the OECD study, only 75 percent of American students graduate from high school, compared to 93 percent in South Korea.
The figures are especially disheartening in the Hispanic community. The Pew Hispanic Center released earlier this year that 41 percent of Hispanic adults in the U.S. do not have a high school diploma, compared with 14 percent of white adults.
You don't need a degree in economics to know that those who have gone on to college level coursework typically earn more money than high school graduates. In the district I represent in South Texas -- which is largely Hispanic -- only about 20 percent of adults have college degrees.
Approximately 40 states currently have a deficit or are in a deficit situation, and many are cutting spending on education, leading to major job losses for teachers. In August, Congress was called back in session and passed emergency legislation for the education community, providing $10 billion total for the nation. This legislation will save or create 319,000 jobs, including 161,000 teacher jobs with 13,400 jobs in Texas.
Last April in Laredo, more than 300 middle school students participated in a program called STEM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. Hispanics lag in these fields and it's vital that our schoolchildren are aware of opportunities in these industries. They met with scientists and engineers from NASA, Texas Instruments, Mercedes Benz Technology, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Texas A&M International University, among others. Through hands-on work stations and labs, these students were exposed to a whole new world of career options. I'm proud to say that this event will grow and continue annually.
More than any other commodity, the industrious mind is America's greatest resource, and we need to make sure we are maintaining our investment to compete globally.
Thomas L. Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, summed it up when he wrote, "My parents told me, "Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving." I tell my daughters, 'Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job.'"
One of the biggest investments in education doesn't even cost a penny. All it takes is time. Being involved in your child's education is more than buying a pack of pencils during back-to-school shopping. It means keeping the lines of communication open with teachers, students and parents. Don't wait for a problem to talk to teachers. Review your child's school records each year. It is your right, and you should know what information is in the file. Keep informed about your child's grades and test results.
America is one of the few places in the world where if you dream big enough and work hard enough, you can improve your lot in life. Let's reaffirm our commitment to education to strengthen our communities. Let's keep education as a path to success and not a bridge to nowhere.
Follow Rep. Henry Cuellar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RepCuellar