There are two things that I wonder about as I read this story about poverty and the Texas schools and the alarming trends we’re seeing in things like the dropout rate. First and foremost, will anyone ever listen to former State Demographer Steve Murdock?
The state’s public schools have more and more low-income kids and persistently high dropout rates – and unless that changes, the future of Texas will contain more long-term unemployment and poverty – and more folks depending on food stamps, Medicaid and CHIP, Murdock said. Higher incarceration rates also can be expected.
“Clearly, with the dismal levels that we have in terms of education right now, that’s clearly where we’re headed,” Murdock said.
If nothing changes, average Texas household incomes will be about $6,500 lower in 30 years than they were in 2000, according to Murdock’s projections. That number is not adjusted for inflation, so it would be worse than it appears.
“It frightens me because it makes it difficult for Texas to achieve the things that all Texans want to achieve – that is, to be very competitive, to be an economic leader in the country and world,” Murdock said.
He sees only two solutions: Texas must do more to prepare preschoolers and must boost grants to provide financial help for college.
“The data seems to show that if a kid walks into a learning situation for the first time when they are 5 or 6, that’s probably too late,” he said.
Which brings me to the second thing: What is Bill Hammond’s policy prescription for bringing about the result he says he prefers?
“Every kid deserves to be educated, and we’re going to figure out what it takes and do it,” said Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “The only way we will turn around public education in Texas is for the business community to realize that their future is at stake.”
Hammond, head of the Texas business group, noted that much of the state’s leadership looks like him – Anglo – and said they “do not understand that in 20 years time, their children are going to face a bleak future in spite of the fact that they have a college education because there are not going to be enough educated workers to move the economy ahead.”
As I said, we know what needs to be done. Murdock summed it up above for those who need to hear it again. You may notice that the things Murdock listed will cost money, more money than we’ve been spending, and much more than we’re likely to spend in the upcoming biennium thanks to the current budget situation, and more importantly the structural deficit the Lege created in 2006 when it passed that ginormous unaffordable property tax cut. Bill Hammond knows this, whether he wants to admit it or not. What I know is that Hammond has been busy advocating a constitutional amendment that would make it impossible to ever provide for Texas public education in a way that Hammond seems to say it needs. What I’d like to know is what Hammond wants to do to make sure every kid gets the education he says they deserve. Does he agree with Steve Murdock? If so, how does that jibe with his call for a constitutional amendment to severely restrict revenue growth? If not, what is his preferred approach? Just saying “we’ve got to figure it out”, especially when you advocate other policies that would prevent the solutions that others have already figured out from ever being practical, is a cop-out. Hammond clearly understands what’s at stake here. The question is whether or not he supports taking action to deal with it, and whether or not he supports candidates for office who support taking action to deal with it. What say you, Bill?