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Politics trumps education in Texas


The following ran in the March 7, 2012, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

March 21, 2012

By Mitchell Schnurman

Politicians everywhere love to talk up education, but in Texas, they won't pay the price.

This month's Exhibit A: The Fort Worth school district is trying to entice 600 teachers to retire or resign so it can avoid layoffs. A hundred other professionals will be offered buyouts.

This is the inevitable result of the state's decision last year to slash education funding by $5.4 billion over the biennium. According to one survey, school districts statewide have 32,000 fewer staffers this year, including 12,000 teachers, because funding formulas were cut so deeply.

Superintendents plan more reductions for the next school year, as in Fort Worth.

But it doesn't have to be this way. In the nine months since the Legislature approved the budget, the Texas economy has bounced back. Collections from sales tax and motor vehicle taxes are running twice as high as projected. Revenue from oil and gas is even stronger.

As a result, the comptroller has upgraded revenue estimates by $2.2 billion, along with an $800 million increase in the rainy-day fund. If Texas lawmakers wanted to draw a line on education and halt the cuts halfway through, the money is there.

The political will is not....

For more than a decade, demographers have been warning that the clock is ticking. Most of the state's population growth has come from Hispanics, a group that trails badly in education and income. If growth trends continue and education results don't improve, "Texas will inevitably become a less productive and poorer state," Cal Jillson wrote in his new book, Lone Star Tarnished.

From 2010 to 2040, Hispanics are projected to account for 85 percent of Texas' population growth, according to Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. Anglos, with the highest average income by far, aren't projected to grow much. If earning power holds steady among racial and ethnic groups, Jillson projects that the state's average income per person would fall by 25 percent.

Such results aren't set in stone, but cutting back on education is not the way to change that direction. In the past 60 years, Jillson said, Texas' per-student spending has never topped the U.S. average or been in the top half of the states. While the gap narrowed periodically, it's been growing since 2000.

Education statistics are often sliced many ways. Texas scores much better, for instance, on rankings that include spending on buildings. And reform efforts have led to better results.

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