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State Needs Good Schools to Keep Business Booming

Waco Tribune-Herald

We’re No. 1!

So let’s party, let’s really get down and celebrate CNBC’s designation of Texas as the country’s top state for business — before we doze off at the familiarity, the sheer repetitiousness, of the occasion. Texas always ranks at or near the apex in these well-meant, well-appreciated ratings of economic success — CNBC’s, Forbes’, Chief Executive’s, etc.

Good news, after a while, has a way of dulling the sensibilities. Yes, we did it again! Cheers and back pats all around.

These occasions nevertheless call for a certain sensitivity and deliberation. Yes, we’re No. 1. Nevertheless, why? And, of equal import, can we remain so — or close to it?

The conventional, and accurate, take on the matter is that Texas respects and rewards work and investment through respecting and rewarding personal liberty. Free enterprise works when encouraged in an atmosphere of relatively low taxes and relatively light regulation. People work harder; they spend more; they create more jobs. The creation of jobs inspires the creation of still more jobs.

Forbes magazine says the cost of doing business in Texas is 11.5 percent below the national average. A state doesn’t get that result by thrashing entrepreneurs and risk-takers with ridiculous rules and diktats (even if the state’s rather overprotective and nanny-ish system of occupational licensing requires rethinking at a high level).

The trick here isn’t celebrating. Naturally Texans (those who aren’t snoring) celebrate the good news. The trick is keeping an eye on potential challenges to the good news. For instance, education — the training of minds, the cultivation of skills. The news here is less celebratory.

The education research center Education Week accords Texas schools a ranking of 40th best among the states — if a word like “best” has any resonance here. CNBC, for all its admiration of the state’s go-get-’em spirit, grades Texas schools at 37th in the nation.

Somebody isn’t paying attention here. The kids now attending those schools are soon going into the job market, dragging along with them a variety of subpar skills and understandings. Quite a few — as employers are often heard to observe — can barely write an English sentence, or a non-English one for that matter.

Many and complex are the factors contributing to educational mediocrity, including sociology. Education Week says a little over half of Texas children grow up in households with incomes twice or more the poverty rate. The percentage raised by college-educated parents is 20 percent below the national average.

A factor much blamed by teachers unions for educational mediocrity is low spending. Indeed, the state spends annually on its pupils $4,000 less than the national average. You might argue that a rich state can do better. However, the relationship between spending and achievement is easy to exaggerate, particularly at the insistence of unions wanting more taxpayer money for their members. Nor does it account for Forbes’ report that nearly a billion Texas dollars go to pay the six-figure salaries of 7,327 administrators, athletic directors and even some teachers earning more than twice the statewide average.

If state policymakers want to hit a lick for better schools, a good start would be overhauling the wacko system of school finance foisted on Texas by a state Supreme Court. It asserts constitutional irregularity in the way funding is distributed among school districts. No respectable educational aim is served by forced, and frankly Marxian, redistribution of locally raised property tax money. “Equal” educational attainment takes a back seat here to “equal” spending outcomes.

Much flapping of jaws takes place over the stupidity of the school finance non-system, but nothing that advances education ever gets done. Such may continue to be the case till state leaders, as a species, conclude that ignoring the whole question of school finance — how much should we spend, and how do we spend it? — likely consigns Texas to a day of economic reckoning when the requirements of a booming job market exceed the tools available for satisfying those requirements.

Till then, party on, dudes!