U.S. News recently released its “Best States” rankings, and overall Texas ranked poorly, 38th out of 50, and even worse in education, 41st, even though our economy ranked sixth and our government was 11th. What happened?
The short answer is Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the legislative majority persist in squandering Texas’ resources and opportunities. And the government ranking is misleading.
The quality of Texas government was ranked primarily on process, not results. Texas got high marks for such factors as use of digital technology, balanced budgets, the state credit rating, auditing procedures and public access to information about political fund-raising and lobbyists.
Texas government wasn’t ranked on how poorly it uses the resources generated by the state’s highly-ranked economy (first in GDP growth and fifth in job growth) to improve opportunities for all its citizens. The Legislature always passes a balanced budget because the Texas Constitution requires it. All too often, though, those budgets are balanced by cutting corners.
You may remember that in 2011, during an economic downturn, then-Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority balanced the budget by slashing billions of dollars from important public services, including $5.4 billion from education alone, rather than raise revenue. Even with a strong economy now, Abbott and Patrick insisted on leaving billions of dollars in the state’s savings account this year rather than adequately funding services such as education and health care.
U.S. News’ researchers may have been impressed with Texas’ flush stash of cash, but they weren’t impressed with our educational or health care systems, our infrastructure or the opportunities afforded our citizens.
Texas ranked 41st in education, including 36th in pre-school enrollment, 43rd in pre-K quality and 29th in college readiness. Those are indicators negatively impacted by poor education funding. Poor funding means larger classes, fewer opportunities for teachers to provide one-on-one attention to struggling students, inadequate classroom technology, etc.
In a separate study by the National Education Association, Texas ranked 35th in state education spending per student, $2,555 below the national average. In contrast, the four highest rated states for education systems in the U.S. News study – Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Connecticut – also ranked in the top 10 for per-student funding.
In other rankings, Texas was 50th (dead last) in health insurance enrollment, 47th in health care access, 49th in overall infrastructure, 21st in road quality, 50th in power grid reliability, 24th in housing affordability, 43rd in education equality by race and 42nd in gender equality.
Because of these factors and more, Texas ranked 45th in its capacity for providing opportunities for all its citizens. That’s the price of electing government officials who are less interested in promoting opportunity for everyone than they are in trying to dictate how people should live their lives.