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"Texas on the Brink" cites shortcomings that Legislature must address

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

There are many superlatives that can rightly be used to describe Texas. It's a great place to work and live, and the people who call Texas home can be proud of its history, traditions, values, and cultural diversity.

Count me among those who feel that pride. But as a state legislator, it's also my job to look beyond all the good things Texas has to offer. After all, my colleagues and I were elected to identify and solve problems. Unfortunately, our state has many that need to be addressed.

The Texas Legislative Study Group recently issued the sixth "Texas on the Brink" report, a sobering assessment of how the Lone Star State compares to other states in a wide range of important issues. Despite our bragging rights on so many things, Texas lags most states in the critical areas of academic achievement, public health, and the environment.

Here's a sampling of where Texas stands:

  • Percentage of population graduated from high school: 50th
  • Percentage of low income population with Medicaid coverage: 48th
  • Percentage of population uninsured: 1st
  • Percentage of non-elderly uninsured: 1st
  • Percentage of uninsured children: 2nd
  • Percentage of children living in poverty: tied for 7th
  • Amount of carbon dioxide emissions: 1st
  • Amount of hazardous waste generated: 1st
  • Amount of toxic releases into water: 4th
  • Amount of carcinogens released into the air: 4th
  • Industrial toxic air pollution: 10th
The environmental rankings in the study are of great concern. Texas has a varied economy and a well-deserved reputation as a job creator; and our manufacturing, energy production, and industrial output are the envy of many. But we can't accept poor air and water quality as the "cost of doing business" when the technology exists to vastly reduce toxic emissions.

Perhaps the most troubling area identified in the report is public education. The fact that Texas ranks last in the percentage of population with a high school diploma is unacceptable, yet understandable in light of the $5.3 billion in budget cuts imposed on public schools two years ago.

Those cuts forced teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, and a decline in the quality of classroom instruction, and certainly contributed to another fact reported by "Texas on the Brink": Texas ranks 31st in the average salary for public school teachers.

The report also noted that Texas has the nation's fourth-highest teen birth rate, a reflection of the lack of sex education in public schools and a contributing factor to the sad cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and child abuse perpetuated by young people who are too inexperienced and immature to be raising children.

The problems identified in "Texas on the Brink" won't be solved overnight, but the Legislature is taking some steps in the right direction. Fortunately, a bipartisan consensus has emerged that the state needs to address its transportation and water infrastructure needs — the foundations of our economy and future growth.

And there also appears to be agreement on restoring a sizeable portion of the money that was cut from public education two years ago, including a possible infusion from the rainy day fund.

"Texas on the Brink" isn't meant to tear Texas down, but to make us acknowledge our shortcomings and find ways to address them. We live in a great state, but it can't reach its full potential until these problems are resolved in a bipartisan fashion and the American dream is available to everyone.

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