Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Editorial: Lawmakers must stop ignoring fact that education is in need

July 12, 2017 at 11:32 p.m.

The well-being of children in Texas is not good, and that doesn't bode well for their future success — or our state's.

While there has been slight improvement in some areas, Texas remains 41st when ranked against other states on the levels of poverty, educational achievement, living conditions and health care with its youngest population.

The 2017 Kids Count Data Book recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reveals nothing new. And that makes the data all the more troubling.

Why do policymakers continue to ignore the clear message? The study has been around since 1990, and our state's children have never fared well. But Texas lawmakers continue to give short shrift to the issues highlighted by the worrisome statistics.

Is it because the 1.6 million Texas children living in poverty and their parents, many of whom lack full-time employment, don't have deep pockets and high-priced lobbyists pleading their case in Austin? Impoverished communities don't contribute to campaigns.

These problems won't magically disappear on their own.

Failure to address these dire needs now will significantly impact the state's economic health in the years ahead. We can tackle the problems now or foot the bill down the road through added costs for social, health and criminal justice programs.

Among the Texas children living in poverty, 28 percent were from families where no parent of the household had full-time, year-round employment. Education can be a great equalizer, but not when it is continuously shortchanged by the Legislature.

Failure to address this problem says a lot about state policymakers' political fortitude to take on the tough issue. In the past, they would rather have the issue of fair and equitable school finance play out in the courts for years than address it.

More than a year ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state's public school financing was constitutional — but strongly recommended that inadequacies be addressed. Yet, the status quo remains. The Legislature this year failed to boost school funding to erase the inequities, though a special legislative session likely will take up the matter of a commission to study the issue.

The issue does not need further study. Texas ranks 30th in the country on education. Its high school graduation rates, the college-readiness of those who graduate and its eighth-grade students' proficiency in math and reading leave much to be desired.

Legislators need to focus on problems identified by the data, not on bathroom bills or school vouchers.

Texas children are in trouble, and they need help. The data should not be ignored.



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