On a single day last week, we got fresh statistics showing that Texas students’ math and reading scores have at-best stagnated — and, in some cases, dropped dramatically — over the past two years.
We also got new numbers showing not only that Texas is still leading the nation in the number of uninsured children, but that our rate grew from 9.8% to 11.2% between 2016 and 2018 — and that no other state’s uninsured child rate is even in the double digits.
And the state’s foster care system is in such distress that a federal judge has threatened to hold the state in contempt of court if leaders don’t move faster to fix it.
These data points don’t simply reveal problems that Texas is dealing with today; they also spotlight the challenges that are coming.
By 2036 — the year of Texas’ bicentennial — our state will have 10 million more people than it does today. That’s the combined population of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, all squeezed into the parts of the state that can accommodate so many newcomers.
Further, Texas will need to add nearly 8 million new jobs by 2036 to accommodate this new population. More than 75 percent of those jobs will require a post-secondary credential, but more than half of Texans between 25 and 34 have not completed any form of postsecondary education.
The health numbers are just as sobering: Texas ranks 49th in overall health system performance — and last in accessibility and affordability. One-in-three Texas adults, and nearly one-in-five youth, is obese.
What happens when today’s struggling students become tomorrow’s unprepared workers? What happens when children who lack medical access today aren’t healthy enough to achieve their own goals or contribute to the workforce tomorrow?
Numbers like these should inspire Texans to action. We should look at programs and practices in model schools and high-performing states that produce demonstrable improvements in student performance. We should look to Texas’ history at innovations — such as around education standards and accountability — that have produced demonstrable improvements in outcomes and performance.
And where investment makes sense — where we see openings to leverage existing resources in ways that produce dividends for our state — we should take actions that bolster Texas’ future.
Don’t look at these numbers as dreadful or intimidating statistics. Look at them as a wake-up call for our state. The next step is to get up and go to work.