Guest post by Gary Scharrer
Texas is headed for the ditch, but few people are aware of the state’s perilous path. The demographers have seen the future, though, because it’s in their numbers. And they’ve been sounding the alarm. But any meaningful reaction has been stifled by those willing to ignore the warning signs and what might be the consequences of a failure to act.
Texas could be the pace setter: It has a young and rapidly growing population. Educate that workforce and Texas becomes a vibrant, thriving state for decades. Unfortunately, that young population is overwhelmingly minority and under-educated, and there appears little political interest in addressing the needs of that demographic group.
Increasingly, Texas stands to become poorer and less competitive, according to demographers who study the numbers for a living. Unfortunately, neither state leaders nor the media is paying adequate attention. Few Texans are even aware of the state’s rapidly changing population. Hispanics will surpass “whites” as the largest population group some time before 2020.
For the past couple of years, I’ve given scores of state leaders and lawmakers a pop quiz: Guess what percentage of the Houston and Dallas ISD school enrollments consist of “white” children? The typical response ranges between “25 percent” and “40 percent.”
The correct answer: 8.2 percent “white” for the Houston ISD and 4.7 percent “white” for Dallas ISD. Most folks gasp. The numbers don’t even appear believable. But they are fact.
The point of the exercise is to gauge awareness of the rapidly changing demographics before pivoting to the more important discussion of the implications.
“White” students are now a minority in such school districts as Plano, Katy, Humble, Arlington, Amarillo, Midland, Lubbock, Tyler, Wichita Falls, Texarkana, and Cypress-Fairbanks. The dramatic change in those places has occurred in the past ten years.
Are “white” families fleeing the suburbs to other spots? No. Heading to private schools or home-schooling? No.
Texas Anglos are simply vanishing.
The state lost 184,486 “white” children between 2000 and 2010 – while gaining 931,012 Hispanic children over that decade, according to the U.S. Census. Stated another way, in 2000, Texas Anglo kids outnumbered Hispanic children by 120,382; Flash forward to 2010 and Hispanic children outnumbered white kids by 995,116.
Texas children under the age of 18
Source: U.S. Census
This gap will only continue to widen. Demographer Steve Murdock notes the average white female is 42 years old compared to an average age of 28 for Latinas. And the fertility rate is 1.9 for the white female while it is 2.7 for the Latina. Demographers say replacement of a population group requires a fertility rate of at least 2.1.
Roughly 112,000 Texas “whites” die each year compared to about 32,000 Hispanic deaths. Approximately 133,000 Texas Anglos will turn 18 this year compared to some 171,000 Hispanics. The gap will widen from here on out. For example, there are 118,000 white 4-year-olds in Texas today compared to more than 194,000 Hispanic 4-year-olds.
The future demography of Texas is not hard to predict.
Whites are projected to make up 3.9 percent of the state’s population growth between now and 2040, compared to 78.2 percent for Texas Hispanics. A colorful pie chart reveals the striking contrast here:
Those are interesting stats. Here’s the important one: ALL of our K-12 enrollment growth over the past decade comes from low income children – defined by family income qualifying the students for free and reduced cost school lunches. Those low income students now make up 61 percent of our school enrollment.
These children often do not benefit from parents reading to them. Their vocabularies are much less developed than those from middle-income families. They’re way behind when they arrive in the 1st grade. Many drop-out years later. A whopping 47 percent of low income high school students from the Class of 2015 were off track to graduate, according to testimony in last year’s school finance trial.
Why does this matter? Murdock, who served as director of the U.S Census Bureau in the George W. Bush Administration, projects that 3 out of 10 Texas workers will not have a high school diploma by 2040. Also, in 25 years, the average Texas household income will be some $6,500 less than it was in the year 2000. The figure is not inflation-adjusted so it will be worse than it sounds. Basically, today’s children, collectively, stand to be worse off than preceding generations.
That’s not the Texas miracle our current governor is promoting.
How can we address the trend line? The first step is to increase access to high quality pre-K, Murdock says.
But here is where it gets complicated. Republican lawmakers cut $200 million from Pre K in 2011 as part of their $5.4 billion reduction in public education funding. And the Texas Legislature will include more Tea Party members than ever before when it convenes next year. You won’t hear that group campaigning for more Pre K funding. In fact, you can expect the Tea Party folks to push for more r reductions, which will further compound our problems.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott is not likely to promote universal pre K, either; especially considering the state GOP’s platform:
Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.
We know low income students now make up an ever-growing super-majority of our school enrollment and many struggle to graduate. We also know Murdock’s projections of dire consequences facing this state in the out years. So what, if anything, are we doing about it?
Not much, it appears. An influential Republican lawmaker told me a few years ago the leadership doesn’t care about what happens to Texas in 25 years. The immediate focus is more important: the next election. Another influential Republican leader bluntly told me that talking about the challenges of low-income students will hurt you in the GOP primary.
And the media isn’t paying attention, either. Those demographics-related problems aren’t sexy enough to pursue. Too far into the future. It’s easier to look at Democrat gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ imprecise biography or to focus on the vulgar, has-been rocker Ted Nugent with whom Republican Greg Abbott pals around. Or, maybe it’s easier to write stories about low Democratic voter turnout in a primary that didn’t have any meaningful contested races or full-throated campaigns to stimulate turnout. There’s always a story to be written about the candidate horse race, too; that’s what gets attention, win and lose competitions.
Davis and Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Leticia Van de Putte understand and embrace the New Texas. They will push and promote education during their summer and fall campaigns. Republicans don’t appear to have gotten there – yet. Maybe they will. The GOP seems to be more comfortable with the Old Texas, which is what you see when you enter the Texas Senate or House chambers.
There are no Hispanic Republicans among the 31 state senators; there are only 3 Hispanic Republicans among the 150 House members, and that number could drop after the fall election.
It will be interesting to watch candidates for the state’s top political leadership spots this fall. How much attention will they (and the media) focus on what soon will turn into the state’s No. 1 problem? I’m guessing there won’t be much written about our future failures.
The growth in minority population has created a new “generational rift” along racial and ethnic lines, which is documented in a new book, “Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge.” Murdock is the lead author.
Unless we turn serious about improving the educational achievement for our minority children, this state will land in the ditch. And getting out will take generations. Texas’ economic growth will suffer, according to the book’s authors, whose studies peg the total decline in aggregate Texas household income at between $586 billion per year at the low end and up to $1.6 trillion per year at the high end. Their projections run through 2050.
There are significant disparities in the educational and income levels of “white” Texans and Hispanics.
“If such disparities are not eliminated over the long run, Texas will be poorer and less competitive,” the authors conclude.
Texas poverty rates will continue to climb, and the percentage of Texans with a college degree will decline, they say.
“Low levels of education, low income and high rates of poverty create severe problems for the individuals directly impacted and also create problems for the state as a whole,” the authors note. “A less well-educated workforce makes the state less attractive to out-of-state private corporations.
“Lower income and higher poverty populations impact state service demand and increase costs in areas such as education, Medicaid and a variety of human service programs.”
Incarceration rates will increase
“Lower income populations are less likely to purchase housing units, to create substantial increases in private sector revenues, and to increase state taxes and other revenues at the rate of persons with higher incomes,” the authors point out. “Although closing the socioeconomic gaps for Texas minority populations will be difficult, it is clear that the state is better off if they become better off.”
The Texas condition will deteriorate over the coming decades – unless we intervene now. Unfortunately, by their own admission, most politicians only care about the next election. Someone needs to make them address the trend line – and remind them that their children and grandchildren are more important than winning the next election.
More money is not always the answer. But affluent schools generally achieve greater success with more money – and fewer lower-income students. The state’s top 25 percent funded schools have approximately $1,700 more per student – or $58,796 more per classroom – than the bottom 25 percent funded schools, according to the Equity Center.
Texas ranks 46 out of 50 states in per student funding, according to a recent report by the National Education Association. Texas spends $8,998 per student compared to the national average of $11,674, according to the report.
It should not be surprise anyone that poor school districts with less funding and more low income students struggle. The Texas Constitution requires lawmakers to provide a free public education to our children. The system must be efficient, which means that similar taxing effort must produce similar revenue per student. And the Constitution requires that Texas’ school system provide a “general diffusion of knowledge,” which has been defined as the academic standards established by the Legislature. How can we defend the “general diffusion of knowledge” standard when so many of our low income students cannot meet it?
The demographers are warning us about the not so-rosy future if we fail to act. Education is the answer. Education is the best ticket out of poverty. We simply need state leaders to understand a universal truth: It doesn’t cost to educate a child; it pays to educate a child.
Gary Scharrer spent more than a quarter-century covering Texas politics and public policy as a Capitol-based reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle and El Paso Times.